IC Debate & Speech students take home hardware in strong first half of the season


More than half of the Illinois College Debate & Speech team has qualified for nationals just halfway through the season.

Head Coach Shawna Merrill said the team, which has grown significantly, is seeing success so far this year and is “really making a lot of waves.”

"Every single tournament that we've attended this semester, we've brought home hardware," Merrill said. 

The team travels across the Midwest to about four multi-day tournaments each semester. Donna Jenkins ’22, Ye Htet ’22, Ar'Mand Erving ’23 and Tyra Johnson ’23 have qualified for nationals in debate and Jenkins, Erving and Johnson also have qualified for nationals in other individual events. The national tournament will be in San Diego, California, in March. Jenkins, who came to the team with no debate experience and who was the novice national champion in Lincoln Douglas debate in her first year, said she is excited to see what the team can do the rest of the season. 

"I'm really impressed with our novices and how great they're doing their first season in speech and debate,” Jenkins said. “Most of the first-year students that came in had no experience at all in debate and are performing wonderfully for their first time. I'm really impressed with how the team is doing as a whole.”

The team finished last season with just three first-year students. This season, two returning team members were joined by five new first-year students — more than doubling their ranks. Merrill plans to keep growing the team and taking as many students as possible to nationals each year. 

"We're hoping to continue the snowball effect."
Head Coach Shawna Merrill

"We're hoping to continue the snowball effect," Merrill said.

Despite being a young team with limited debate experience, Merrill said the students are reaching elimination rounds and have winning records in preliminary rounds. And though the season is underway, she is still recruiting. Students can join the team any time throughout the year, regardless of their level of experience. Jenkins said newcomers are welcome.

“Most of the people — myself included — had no experience at all in debate when we first started on the team and we've still managed to take home trophies,” Jenkins said. “It's just a learning process and it's really fun."

Interested students can email Merrill or attend a team practice. Johnson said any student who is on the fence about joining should check debate and speech out. 

"There's nothing bad that can come from just coming to watch a practice or coming to a tournament to see exactly what it is,” Johnson said.

To learn more about Debate & Speech at Illinois College, visit

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932, the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit for more information.

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