Wiley College Debate Team Wins Another Championship
The Wiley College Great Debaters’ legacy continues with more awards and more students dramatically boosted for personal success.
Ironically, the AFA (American Forensics Association) Championship Award ceremony took place on April 4 this year – the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, who fought for equality of African Americans. “Wiley College is a Methodist school and an HBCU (Historically Black College & Universities) with a population of 1,200,” notes Director of Forensics Chris Medina, “yet our debate team was competing against schools with upwards of 50,000 students and we won! Debate was never designed for minority students, yet Wiley has excelled and is a shining example of Dr. King’s legacy.”
Wiley participated in the first interracial debate in 1930 and defeated the reigning National Champions from University of Southern California in 1935, inspiring the 2007 Great Debaters movie starring Denzel Washington. “Pi Kappa Delta did not recognize the 1935 win because Wiley was a Black College, and Denzel was so impressed with the story that he donated a million dollars to restart the program at Wiley in 2008,” reports Chris. Wiley won the first “recognized” national title as an HBCU at the Pi Kappa Delta National Championship in 2014, took second place in 2015, and won outright this year.
Chris is excited to tout the Wiley College Great Debaters for receiving their 436th award earlier this month. “I have to admit there were tears in my eyes when our team went up to accept the latest national championship because the crowd chanted Wiley as the students came to the stage. There is such a reputation and legacy, thanks to our amazing students who have overcome institutional racism, economic disadvantage and other challenges along the way.”
In the recent “all star” tournament of champions at The American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament, Wiley sent seven students to compete in 29 events and had finalists in three events, winning 8th place overall. “It was only our fourth time to compete and we were going against schools with teams of 20 or more,” notes Chris. Aside from the incredible portfolio of awards, Chris is personally moved to know these gifted students and learn of their backstories. “Our most prolific speaker is Austin Ashford, who has won 21 national titles,” he shares. “Austin did not graduate from high school in the traditional way earning his GED, he experienced homelessness and incarceration in his past, yet he fought this adversity back and earned a full scholarship to acting school at the University of Arkansas.”
Drake Pough is living yet another inspirational story. Drake has been a national champion at both the high school and college level. “He was thrust into the role of Team Captain as a freshman because our team was so new there was a lack of leadership,” adds Chris. “Being deemed best in the country does not seem real just yet,” admits Austin, a senior at Wiley. “Wiley has helped me more than I have helped Wiley, as I was not a very focused individual before I joined the debate team. Now I have a purpose and a voice, and a place in the world. I give back by giving my best.”
“Our secret to success is two-fold,” says Chris. “Continuing the legacy means so much to the students, which builds an incredible support system for the team, year after year. Secondly, this expectation drives the students to be better and to be overcomers when they face issues other students don’t have to deal with.” He has devoted countless hours “Investing in the Young” since his arrival to the faculty in 2011. “I believe our eight seniors will have graduate school paid for by the time they finish this year, which is an outstanding metric of personal and collegiate success.”
Adds Austin, “If it wasn’t for God and Wiley College I would not be going to grad school in the fall, as the first alum to pursue a creative writing and acting degree on scholarship. My family is over the top with excitement about my graduation since it will be my first graduation. Considering where I started in life, this success is clearly a gift from God and I thank Him daily.”
Rev. B.T. Williamson, Assistant to the Bishop, is one of four clergy Trustees serving on the Wiley Board alongside three laity Trustees from the Annual Conference. “Wiley has served primarily as a liberal arts institution affiliated with The United Methodist Church since 1873,” he says. “This amazing Debate team epitomizes the mission of the College in developing spiritual, ethical, and moral leaders. Additionally, it is an excellent place to achieve one of our Conference goals of Investing in the Young.”