WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Competing in both the parliamentary and policy formats, the Whitman College Debate Team has enjoyed much success in recent years, winning individual national titles as well as season-long team championships.

There is always room to set the bar a little higher, however, and last weekend it was members of the Whitman policy debate squad who passed a new milestone. For the first time in its modern debate history, Whitman thoroughly dominated a tournament on the national debate circuit.

“It was perhaps the most impressive team performance we’ve had in a single tournament in my 14 years of coaching at Whitman,” debate coach Jim Hanson said.

Whitman sent seven debate duos to Pepperdine University’s annual Ray Buchanan Invitational, and all seven advanced to the elimination rounds. Whitman duos won both semifinal debates in the senior division, thereby “closing out” the tournament as co-champions without a final debate taking place. Meanwhile, one of Whitman’s younger teams won the junior division title.

In the senior division’s individual speaker scoring, Whitman placed two debaters in the top three. One of Whitman’s younger debaters finished third in the junior division.

Senior Jeff Buntin (Montrose, Calif.) teamed with junior Ben Meiches (Minnetonka, Minn.)  as one of Whitman’s senior division co-champions. Their semifinal victory, which capped an undefeated run through the tournament, came at the expense of a team from Harvard University.

Senior Eric Suni (Kansas City, Mo.) and junior Matt Schissler (Bellingham, Wash.) joined forces to claim their share of the senior division title. They knocked off a team from the University of California-Berkeley in the other semifinal.

In the individual speaker competition, Suni placed second and Schissler was third. Buntin finished 10th and Meiches was 15th.

Pepperdine marks the first time Whitman advanced two teams to the senior division finals of a national debate circuit tournament. “The last time we did this at any tournament was at the 2003 Northwest CEDA Championship, which is more of a regional tournament,” Hanson said.


Whitman entered two teams in the junior division at Pepperdine. First-year debaters Candi Kissinger (Appleton, Wisc.) and Luke Sanford (Golden, Colo.) took the title, beating a team from California State University, Fresno, in the finals.


A second Whitman team, freshman Jake Ginsbach (Evansville, Wyo.) and junior Stephen Reed (Kennewick, Wash.), advanced as far the junior division quarterfinals. Ginsbach placed third in the individual speaker scoring.

Whitman had three other teams entered in the senior division, and all three advanced to the octa-finals, finishing in a tie for ninth place. The three teams are junior Ross Richendrfer (Mount Vernon, Wash.) and sophomore Andrew Stokes (Boise, Idaho), sophomores Mike Meredith (Discovery Bay, Calif.) and Eric Chalfant (Oak Harbor, Wash.), and junior Meghan Hughes (Auburn, Wash.) and freshman Sam Allen (Meridian, Idaho).

Whitman's across-the-board success at the Pepperdine tournament is indicative of the academic training the college seeks to impart, Hanson said. "The hours and hours of research and preparation, intense critical thinking, and effective communication of our debaters is connected directly to Whitman's liberal arts mission. Our showing at Pepperdine provides national affirmation and recognition that we are achieving that mission with excellence." 

Next up for Whitman policy debaters is a national circuit tournament hosted by Wake Forest University on the weekend of Nov. 11-13. Hanson plans to send three or four teams to that tournament. Whitman also is slated to host a policy debate tournament on the weekend of Nov. 19-20.

CONTACT: Dave Holden, Whitman News Service
509 527-5902;