~ By Nancy Barragan, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities

Fresno State’s Barking Bulldogs debate team began in 2011. It’s been growing since then, and its members compete in local, regional and even in national championships representing Fresno State. One team, in particular, has had quite a showing this season.

Hunter Sansom and Primavera Leal Martinez, who compete as partners, placed third in the varsity division of the Winter at the Beach tournament at CSU Long Beach on Feb. 2-4. Most recently, they returned to CSU Long Beach to compete in the Pacific Championship Tournament and finished eighth in the varsity division on Feb. 23-25 of last month.

Both credit the debate team in contributing to their personal development and encouraging them to be more involved on campus.

Hunter Sansom, a sophomore majoring in communication, started debate toward the end of her first semester at Fresno State.

“I started as a freshman with absolutely no prior knowledge of debate and have been able to progress from competing in the novice division to competing and doing well in the varsity division in just over a year’s time,” Sansom said.

Sansom first heard about the debate team during her argumentation course.

“The class was set up around three debates,” Sansom said. “I really enjoyed them so the professor put me into contact with Tom Boroujeni, the director of the debate team. I was really inspired to continue pursuing debate because it helps to connect by competitive side and my desire to learn.”

That same inspiration is what helped her realize her passion for communication early on.

“Debate has impacted my life in a lot of ways,” Sansom said. “In terms of school, it helped me to find my passion for Communication and was a huge part of my decision to declare in this major.”

Primavera Leal Martinez, a sophomore majoring in English, started debate her freshman year in high school where she dedicated three years doing Lincoln Douglas debate and policy debate for her senior year. That prior experience prepared her to focus on policy debate at Fresno State.

“We debate in pairs, typically against teams in our division/region. Every once in a while, we compete and national tournaments. This year, we have qualified for the Cross Examination Debate Association’s national tournament,” Martinez said.

Cross Examination Debate Association is the largest intercollegiate policy debate association in the country. Throughout the school year, CEDA oversees over 60 tournaments including the annual National Championship Tournament that brings together well over 175 individual debate teams from across the nation to compete on the basis of research, persuasive speaking, argumentation and philosophy. 

Both Sansom and Martinez will attend the CEDA National tournament this weekend and will compete under the guidance of Tom Boroujeni, the director of the debate team.

“I couldn’t ask for better students and debaters,” Boroujeni said, “Hunter and Primavera exemplify successful debaters. They both have been approached by multiple debate teams with full scholarship offers for their master’s degree after they graduate.”  

Martinez said Boroujeni is definitely a crucial part of the team’s success. He encourages us to push ourselves and constantly improve. While the team is competitive nationally, he does not emphasize winning. Instead, he focuses on personal growth and education, which in turn produces team wins.”

“He contributes to our success in a lot of ways,” Sansom said. “He has dedicated himself to this program and to all of us debaters. You can just tell he wants all of us to succeed within debate and within our other pursuits.”

Not only do Martinez and Hunter have a supportive mentor guiding them through each tournament, but the competition itself is engaging.  

“Debate is really addictive. It is hard to understand until you’ve participated in your first tournament,” Martinez said. “Once you finish your first round, you want to go back and research answers to your opponents’ arguments. Then, when you have those answers prepared, the next time you debate them you do extremely well.”

Martinez and Sansom also find competing in debate tournaments very rewarding. It takes time and effort to improve in debate, which is something these two partners don’t mind doing in order to see positive results after each tournament.  

“Debate is all about hard work. What you’re willing to put into debate, you will get out of it,” Sansom said. “We work incredibly hard on this team and we dedicate a lot of hours at practice and outside of practice to this activity and, personally, it has paid off in a lot of ways.”

Martinez said the debate team has helped her stretch beyond her comfort zone, encouraging her to be involved on campus and realize her interest in pursuing law school.  

“Debate has helped me find my voice. I used to be really afraid to speak in front of other people, but debate has helped me develop confidence in my arguments,” Martinez said. “Debate has taught me how to organize my thoughts and convey them to others, which is a really powerful tool. The ability to communicate with people is extremely important.”

“I plan on attending law school after graduating from Fresno State. Law school will require me to have well developed critical thinking and argumentation skills, which are also necessary to become a successful debater,” Martinez said. “Debate has also taught me how to handle large amounts of reading and think quickly on my feet.”

Sansom said joining the debate team encouraged her to pursue a professional career in communication in the hopes of becoming a professor in the future.

“For me, debate is a really great asset to my future career. I am hoping to get my degree and go on to grad school and become a professor of communication,” Sansom said. “Debate is an activity that has helped to increase my research and critical thinking skills, which in turn helps me in the classroom. The skills I’ve garnered from debate should also help me during grad school and when I am hopefully conducting research of my own later on.”

Another reason Sansom enjoys being part of the Barking Bulldogs is the team environment. “We all want one another to succeed. If one of our teams wins a round at a tournament or does well, all of us rush to congratulate and high-five one another. This type of team cohesion is really important because, at times, debate can be a really high pressure or stressful activity, but when you have a team that enjoys each other and makes it fun, it’s easier to relax,” Sansom said.

Sometimes it’s the most unexpected moments that can also create a positive experience for students resulting in a productive team dynamic.

“I love going to debate tournaments, and, in all honesty, one of my favorite parts is always the drive to and from the tournament because we all get to just talk and make jokes with one another,” Sansom said. “As serious as debate can be, we all spend a lot of time having fun because we really have a great group of people on the team. I’ve met some of my best friends through this team and I’m incredibly thankful to be a part of it.” 

These competitions have offered the opportunity for the Barking Bulldogs to travel all around the country including several destinations across California and so far a few out of state destinations such as Las Vegas, Nevada, Kansas City, Missouri, and currently in Tacoma, Washington. These experiences allow students to explore other campuses and the type of professional opportunities that are available to them in those areas.  

The Barking Bulldogs will compete in their last tournament of the season, the CEDA Nationals, this weekend at Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Washington.