MARSHALL, Texas – Hampton University senior Whitley Pannell won the First HBCU National Debate Championship Jan. 25 - 27 at Wiley College. Hampton University’s six-person team placed fourth overall among 22 HBCUs.
“This debate championship just proves that Hampton University excels above the rest in every way,” said Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey. “So often, we hear about athletic achievements at Hampton University, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our academics are equally outstanding, and this performance just reinforces that.”
Pannell, a Political Science (Pre-Law track) student, also won a sweepstakes award. Charnae Coles and Berry Jones brought home fourth place in the NPDA debate, and Caleb Woods won fourth place in the IPDA debate competition.
“I am thrilled that we did so well at this championship,” Pannell said. “Competing against some of the best minds in the country was challenging and exciting.”
The team consisted of seniors Whitley Pannell, Caleb Woods and Charnae Coles, as well as freshmen Chet Buckner Terris Johnson, and Barry Jones. They competed in single person (IPDA) and partner debates (NPDA) as well as competitions in prose, poetry, persuasive speaking and impromptu speaking.
Hampton University’s Debate Team’s faculty advisor, Kamora Avent, a Fine and Performing Arts Assistant Professor, said that the group that traveled to Wiley College this year is special.
“Once this team came together, I never had a doubt that they would represent Hampton University well,” Avent said. “I couldn’t be happier for them!”
The students competed Friday and Saturday in a variety of individual and team competitions, followed by and award ceremony and a Hall of Fame Banquet Saturday night.
Two debate education legends, Melvin B. Tolson and Dr. Thomas F. Freeman, were inducted into the HBCU Forensics Hall of Fame.
Denzel Washington accepted the award for Tolson, whom Washington played in the 2007 movie "The Great Debaters," which chronicled Tolson’s work on Wiley College's first debate teams in the early 1900’s.
Dr. Freeman is the longest-serving HBCU speech and debate coach. He coached Rep. Barbara Jordan, and he trained Washington for his role in “The Great Debaters.”
The HBCUs at the First HBCU National Debate Championship were Hampton University, Bethune-Cookman University, Fisk University, Howard University, Huston-Tillotson, Jackson State University, Jarvis Christian College, Lawson State Community College, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central University, Paul Quinn College, Philander Smith College, Prairie View A & M University, Rust College, Southwestern Christian College, Talledega College, Tennessee State, Texas College, Texas Southern University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Xavier University of Louisiana and host Wiley College.
Wiley College produced a video documenting the weekend. View it by clicking here.