There are a lot of ways to approach a question like this. I don’t think there is a clear correct method. This is a more challenging question than the best partnership one because the field of potential answers is much larger (people do work across multiple partnerships).
I can imagine some people gravitating toward figuring out the best team list and then parsing between those twenty folks. But I think a list like that, one overly focused on stats, misses the opportunity to have a list that reflects the game changers that have come through the activity in the last ten years. A lot of unique history has been made in the last decade.
Another fun way to think about it is if you were drafting a debate team who would go in the first round? Who’s really good in the round? Who would make a great teammate? Who would be a workhorse for the squad?
Another thing I thought about was how many other folks could pull off what that person did in their given circumstances. This was a key factor separating some honorable mention folks from the top ten list.
A list like this always going to be implicated by vantage point. While this is usually a downside, I think it can be an upside too. I am more familiar with certain folks than others throughout the decade. It is good and fun to share stories about people you don’t know and are sleeping on how great they are. Lists like this aren’t a means of disrespect, but a vehicle to share one’s perspective and hear others in return. I will eat up any response to this post that helps paint a better picture of someone’s time in debate.
Combo Category---Best Small School Debaters + Debaters Who Created a New Peak for Their Program
Combo category because a lot of the best small school debaters created new peaks of success for their program. Not really trying to setoff a T-small school debate. I know some teams are secretly small at heart, but whatever. I DON’T want to hear it.
Harry Aaronson/Cameron Dehmlow Dunne—Indiana AD: I love that Indiana came into existence this decade and reached incredible success with these two! Harry=NDT 3rd speaker. NDT doubles.
Dan Bagwell/Logan Gramzinski---Samford BG: Octa’s of the NDT on immigration. My overwhelming memory of Samford from this time was they would pick annoying Affs. I don’t actually remember what they were on about on immigration, only remember De-Alert (a coward’s Aff) and Yemen (for which nothing that was done could be considered democracy assistance, that was only Dan though, Logan graduated). Was alerted that Samford teams cleared at the NDT long ago, but they were the first team in 25 years to do so. Good enough for me.
Andrew Baker/Brian Rubaie---UTD BR: NDT Quarters. So good! Counterforce Aff! Watching them beat Kansas KQ’s Foucault Aff on Irigaray. 2010 debate at its finest!
Brian Box/Matt Munday---Wichita State BM: De-Dev! Heg bad! Neg vs new Aff from Georgia LL (Lacy/Layton, 10th bid). Georgia’s reading some shit about Tunisia? Libya? Who fucking knows. It has a zillion impacts. Around impact 12 or 13…economic decline! The rest is history and Wichita BM was an NDT quarterfinalist.
Taylor Brough/Khalil Lee---Vermont BL: CEDA champions. NDT Doubles. First round bid (first in Vermont history? Not sure). I remember them for beating people on disclose your prefs.
Kevin Kallmyer/Peter Susko---UMW KS: NDT semifinalists: Ask Ryan Galloway about this semi’s debate if you have 3 hours to spare. Kevin Kallmyer…best small school debater of all time?? I think he is in the top 20 debaters of the decade at least.
One of the things that makes debate unique and fun to me are the districts and the circuits. You show up in a district. You go to a regional tournament. You hear about the folks who did well at those tournaments previously. You look around and see those people doing well nationally from your district. Sometimes you hit each other, and they destroy you (Kentucky prelims on nukes).
You want to graduate from those regional tournaments to do well nationally and become an end boss in your district. Great debater graduates and starts judging you. They are endlessly helpful and super nice despite being EONS better than you.
Kevin was that kind of person when I debated and D7 helped cultivate that deep love of debate. What a fucking king and it’s what makes debate great.
Mary Marcum/Hunter McFarland—Wyoming MM: Scrappy AF. Love the mountain west. Wish I judged them more.
Colin McElhinny/Tom Pacheco + Patrick McCleary---UMW MP and UMW MM: 5th bid on energy! 6th bid on war powers + NDT Octas! Mary Washington best small school of the decade?? Yes. Thank gawd I debated all these people when I was a senior and they were sophs before they figured shit out and got way better than me. Thanks, dumb luck! Some of the most prolific card cutters the game has seen.
Cody Crunkilton/Miranda Ehlrich---Minnesota CE: NDT semifinalists on legalization. They made you earn it. Infamous for the impact turn. I have told this story on the internet before I think but I am doing it again!
My first interaction with Cody and Miranda was at the coast my senior year. I had no idea who they were. Until that point Minnesota teams in my career kept going for queer theory and psychoanalysis K's. I walk in and I see Miranda with. . .pink hair? I see Cody with some goofy shirt on, so I thought things were gonna get weird. They proceeded to light us up on the PIC out of radical islamists to our Syria AFF (which we were warned about pre round, but I blew off caring about that). Thanks Luke Hill for bailing us out though!
Matt Gomez/Jeffrey Horn---UNLV GH: 3rd bid and NDT quarters on healthcare. More appearances later in the post for these two.
Nick Nave/Devane Murphy---Rutgers MN: CEDA + NDT champions, ever heard of them?
Elijah Smith/Ryan Wash---Emporia SW: Same thing, but they also did it first so there. 3 tournaments, 2 wins + a finals. Mind boggling.
Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos---Gonzaga KM: Nicest team of the decade? Yes. Best 4th team of the decade? I am not going to look at it and just say yes. Dartmouth RR on democracy. Took a handful of L’s to NU BK. Broke an Aff that involves a RHINOS impact and won with Dheidt judging. Fucking nice.
Also was my last debate ever! The panel: Sarah Lundeen, Sherry Hall, Stephanie Spies, Fitzmier, Adrienne, Hardy, Judd Kimball. We are Aff. We are happy to be there and out of gas. We try to turn their Chinese politics DA, but the 2AC was bad. We get Hardy’s ballot on Leah didn’t kick the CP, stuck with it, it links to the DA. Took no seconds of the 2AR. We proceed to lose 5 of the other 6 (thanks Judd!)
Here is the real question though, what team is more of a mouthful: Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos or Viveth Karthikeyan/Alex Gazmararian? We only ask the super serious and important questions on this blog.
James Allan/Jefferey Yan---Binghamton AY: NDT Octafinalist and first round bid team from Binghamton! What comes to mind when I think of this team is they are the kind of K team that is decreasing in popularity which is a pity. Teams like this are really fun. When I debated Binghamton back in the day I lost on wipeout (like aliens, universe shattering weapons, the whole nine yards). Glad to see the squad has diversified the arsenal.
Derek Hilligoss/Jasmine Stidham---UCO HS: NDT octafinalists and first round bid team. Best set col team of the decade?? Not really sure how to prove that. Most D3ish D3 team of the decade?? I don’t feel I have the localized knowledge to say for sure. Fuck, I have bitten off a lot more than I can chew with these questions. They are good, they are nice, they are the best team in program history, Derek likes the Thunder (the poor bastard) and Jasmine doesn’t know what sports are so that leads to funny things online. Good shit.
NOTE--- To be considered in one of the following categories, one of the main things that comes to mind when thinking about that debater has to be the category in question. When listing folks in these categories I am doing it in no particular order.
Best AFF Writers
Remember when thinking about subcategories I was thinking about folks whose main quality to me represents the category. So there are a lot of great 2A’s out there, but they don’t stand out in mind as “you have to break a new Aff against aliens to save planet earth, what debater is tasked to write said Aff?”
Carly W---nukes NDT finals was a work of art.
Arjun---NDT semi’s on energy and NDT finals on legalization. Two of the best crafted Affs of all time!
Ezra---respect to the king of the new Aff
Truf---no one said this was an impartial blog. Over the last two year both prolific and highest quality stuff imo.
Suo---K Aff’s before and after have paled in comparison to masterpieces BoSu threw out there.
Best in the Clash
To me this means who is best at going for or defeating framework. Obviously lots of people have a lot of clash debates, but that doesn’t mean they get to be in this category if they are infamous for a few other things.
BoSu---a lot of folks read different K aff’s that lead to the same approach against framework in the later speeches. I thought BoSu read a handful of different affs that tackled framework in unique ways. They did it at a level of sophistication not yet matched since they graduated imo.
Donnie Grasse---I am bias, but I think this one is objectively right. Best topic education style arguments in the game + great record + he had a unique way of phrasing and impacting things that hasn’t really been duplicated. Not your grandma’s truth testing framework debater.
Corrine Sugino---I thought Wake AS was the hardest to framework against particularly on climate.
Hemanth---no cards, no extraneous parts. Great at making complex things intelligible. Great on his feet. Great in CX. A true master.
Alex Miles---I am very biased in favor of debaters in this category from war powers onward. I think framework debates changed around then and K teams grew in number and quality (particularly on war powers and legalization there are a zillion of them that are very good). And I think Miles was best of the best during that time.
I am only thinking about people I watched who maintained a very high level of clarity and were so fast that I could not keep up. Three people in my time meet that standard:
THAT’S IT. Sorry everybody else who is a notch slower or a terrible mumbler.
Least Predictable 2N
I considered folks who really embody the notion of “if you put it in your 1NC you are willing to go for it.” Sorry people who went for politics all the time, I imagined another category for you. The more I thought about this, the less people cleared the bar for me. Old wiki dying/being too hard to look at didn’t help jog my memory.
For instance, I think Northwestern has reasonable notoriety for going for stuff that is not politics. But when I think back on their debaters from the decade I remember Layne going for orientalism all the time and I remember Miles going for drones good all the time (and the treaty cp/da on legalization).
Other people I thought had reasonable range I remember going for politics a whole hell of a lot still (Markoff and Ellis). I get it, sometimes it is the best thing, it is a NB to CP’s and hard to find other stuff that links on the fly. Pairs good with case D and some turns which is a favorite subject for most 2N’s. But ya boring 2N’s.
So I may need some help from the community on this one. I think three people stand out to me personally off the top of my head.
Andrew Baker---I debated him a lot on immigration and saw him debate a lot on nukes and ag and he just really didn’t give a fuck about what he went for. Like 2NR’s on ASPEC didn’t give a fuck. Going for Irigary because the 2AC said 3 things. I remember having a debate against UTD BR where my 2AC goal was to beat midterms and whatever CP it was a NB to, but there were 4 or 5 other things in the 1NC. Baker takes like 8 mins of 2NC prep and the block is everything else that was in the 1NC (like some real stinkers got extended) and UTD beat us. Most people don’t know who this guy is, but he was really good.
Donnie---I am only saying him mainly because of his propensity to extend 2 or 3 things in the 2NR. You can’t be boring when you never kick shit in the 2NR.
Peyton Lee---I think she was the most flexible NU 2N. I remember the helium DA, China competitiveness DA, Greenwashing DA and Coal DA in pretty big top 5 debates. Went for T in a few spots. Might have gone for politics a lot too, but whatever. Think I recall a Heidegger and rights malthus 2NR in there too. RANGE.
Two other people: Will Morgan and Bolman. The average number of positions a K team goes for in a year is what? Somewhere between 1 and 2 on average? Granted I am thinking mostly against Affs with plans. I can see the range having to be wider by necessity when negating an aff without a plan. I think these two would top the wiki test for most positions listed on the neg, but could be wrong.
Most predictable 2N
Ah, the most predictable 2N. This category means two things to me. One, your 2NR’s have to be at least 95% the same thing. Two, you have to be successful to a certain extent while playing with what one would consider a handicap of being overwhelmingly not diverse in argument selection.
Jeffery Horn---2nd semester on healthcare was pretty creepy with how you knew what was coming and it didn’t really mater.
Advait Ramanan---I think he might have almost ruined it in the 2nd semester because he started going for Zivotofsky.
Hemanth---econ DA behemoth
Wimsatt---I am not going to look and would be interested to know, but I would be SHOCKED if you told me he went for a DA that wasn’t elections or politics.
Thur---true to his Wisconsin roots, a 2NR doesn’t have to be fancy to be good/effective.
Note---not really listing K teams in this one because my thinking here is these folks introduced other positions but regardless of how little you said on some of them would not go for them. Different dynamic then a one off K situation BUT does lead to the following category.
Best going for a K
One big factor in thinking about this was who would I rather overwhelmingly be Neg against rather than Aff. Another is who had good range. Another is who was very good at taking complex things and making it intelligible (particularly for a doofus like me).
RJ Giglio---fluid across multiple kinds of positions. Texas on democracy…round 7 or 8. An ass beating on Lacan I will never forget.
Edmund Zagorin---NDT quarters on immigration. Go watch it:
Layne Kirshon---democracy topic. Orientalism K. 5 majors won. Best Copeland of the decade. Unstoppable force.
Markoff---complexity K in finals of the NDT??? It mainly means he has no fear, but doesn’t mean he is the best at going for a K. Sorry.
Q---more on her later.
Jasmine---overwhelmingly true I would prefer being Neg on climate and healthcare vs UCO HS and Jasmine going for a K was the reason.
Marquis---the only thing that was going to save you was him being top heavy! The six minute overview was probably the most intricate explanation of Afro-pessimism I have come across.
Spurlock---so slow but so effective. A lot of moving parts. Lot of engagement with the aff in specific terms. Very difficult to effectively come up with a 2AC blueprint against.
Let’s move on to my top 10 debaters of the decade
10. Nick Nave---Rutgers
Historic NDT champion. Debated at KCKCC and Rutgers and reached the pinnacles of success from the small school starting point. I am not the person to best articulate their story in debate but can pay my respects by recognizing the great and historic accomplishment that didn’t occur in any other decade. Their work with the WDI has demonstrated they are a true community builder.
9. Hemanth Sanjeev---Harvard
NDT winner. 2x Copeland winner. Great in the clash. Wildly efficient. Nice and laid back. Best in CX of the decade. It is difficult to find someone who can translate such smart shit into such a digestible package.
8. Rashid Campbell---Oklahoma
Historic NDT top speaker. An NDT where they were 8-0 with 23 ballots. There are a lot of debaters with absurd stats and it would be very difficult to parse them. But there was never a debater like Rashid, and I don’t think there has been one like him since. Presented sophisticated positions in a singular style about subjects like code-switching that the debate community hasn’t fully wrapped its head around.
7. Natalie Knez---Georgetown
Most underrated 2N of the decade. NDT top speaker and 2x NDT finals. Some of the greatest speeches of all time in the finals of the NDT on climate and healthcare. The run to the finals on healthcare is an all-time accomplishment. Popping two new affs in elims that year, beautiful. Going from almost quitting to NDT finals with a frosh. I can’t think of many other people who could pull off such a thing. Great strategist, seemed to be willing to entertain a lot of ways to get the job done (before she dismissed most of them as stupid).
6. Andrew Arsht---Georgetown
The real question is would the greatest debater of the decade lose to me when they were a frosh and I was a junior. Assuredly not! I guess you can say he figured some things out past that point. I really wasn’t trying to honor the same thing multiple times on this list, but Georgetown AM is just too good to deny.
5. Andrew Markoff---Georgetown
But the classic question is do you prefer Arsht or Markoff? MARKOFF. All day every day. 2AR’s are all well and good and some might say Arsht is on the short list of greatest at giving that speech. But 2NR and 1AR’s are what gets the heart beating. Thinking about how you are going to read all the cards Markoff is getting through in the post round. How is he saying so much? He won the debate 3 arguments ago. Fuck, he has two minutes on the clock still. What is happening?
10 elims during the NDT’s they won. 7 Negs and 3 Affs. Just sayin.
4. Elijah Smith—Emporia and Rutgers
Historic NDT win (first of several this decade). First to unite CEDA and NDT crowns. Changed the trajectory of debate. Most of this equally true of Ryan as well, but I am trying to be spot efficient! And Elijah came back and was the 5th bid and NDT quarterfinalist so that broke the tie for me. Doing the in’s during that energy NDT was wild to watch. Pretty good for a high school LD’er!
3. Stephen Weil---Emory
One of the first great debaters to personally stomp you really sticks with you. The stats don’t hurt. 167-24 on immigration and nukes. So clear. So fast. One of those debaters where getting to a 100 neg cards read was a realistic possibility (Civ Good against WGA BS on the ag NDT? Going for prolif good? Going for the deterrence DA?) Won the NDT quarters on immigration on the buddhism K! Quarters on the nukes NDT, Aff vs. MSU LW. 1AR is great fucking speech about CP theory. I watched it 100 times that summer and that is all I knew about theory for the next two years! (which really explains a lot honestly). Can you name another person that you can have a conversation about being the best debater, judge and coach in a given decade? No, you cannot.
2. Arjun Vellayappan
I really tried not to be too stat centric when creating this list but at some point, someone is going to come along and amass such a resume it is hard to deny. That is the case with Arjun.
I believe he won 12 majors including the Shirley all four years (the first time was a closeout we are counting). NDT finals, Copeland, Copeland, NDT win (with two other NDT quarterfinal appearances to boot).
Back of the hand calculation says he won 316 debates and lost 53. He won 86% of the debates he participated in.
I would draft him first if I was building a debate team because I would know the Aff ship would be well taken care of and he seems like a great team player despite being sooo much better than everyone else. Just a class act that beat the shit out of everyone for four solid years without really relenting at any point.
1. Quaram Robinson
So, let’s start by saying that Kansas BR making the finals of the NDT on military maybe the most impressive accomplishment in the entire decade. The number of teams outside the top 16 that made an NDT finals before that point is: zero (I am pretty sure, I looked through 2005 and assumed it was a law of nature).
People who want to say Emporia winning the NDT was more impressive would be justified. But hey Emporia was a first round and won CEDA going into that NDT. Lots of different number bids have made the finals and won the NDT. The 17th ranked team has NEVER made the finals and it was a frosh and soph! Incredible. Lots of teams similar to Emporia have won the NDT since but will there ever be a run like Kansas BR?? I am not so sure.
The follow up act was a Copeland and NDT victory, one of the best team performances of the decade. Their average final place that year was 1.8. NU BK (best Copeland of the decade imo) was 3.57! (because they lost in the doubles once)
Four different partners. Great 1AC’s, specific neg evidence, a person I would always want to be Neg against because of how effective of a 2N they were. A class act and a historically great all-time debater.
A lot of history was made this decade. I hope this post will lead others to share stories about debaters that stood out to them. Regional debate hero, small school warrior, a certain kind of specialist, that great debater that beat you down when you were young, that favorite debater you got the chance to judge. There are a lot of great debaters with a lot of great stats that got snubbed off my list. There are no objectively right answers or approaches here. Nothing but respect for the debaters of the 2010’s
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK and coach with Montgomery Bell Academy. This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.