“CINDERELLA” debate team takes first place in S.U.N.Y. Binghamton debate Tournament

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It’s the final round, and with its 5:1 tournament record from the preliminary rounds in hand, the Rutgers team of sophomores Chris Pinho, a political science major attending Rutgers University in Newark, and Kevin Cenac, a history major attending Rutgers University in New Brunswick, go toe-to-toe with two formidable competitors from New York University. After intense preparation and conditioning and two grueling hours of sheer grit, stamina and determination, Pinho and Cenac reign supreme, emerging champions of the junior varsity division of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Binghamton Debate Tournament hosted by the State University of New York—Binghamton, Nov. 22-23. Pinho garners honors as the tournament’s top speaker out of a field of 34; Cenac ranks fifth.

And so it goes for the “Cinderella” Rutgers University debate team, formed impromptu and self-funded by Newark’s Science Park High School alums Pinho and Cenac and their high school coach, Kurt Shelton. In winning the championship, the two beat longer-established teams from Cornell University, Bard College,

New York University, West Virginia University, and the University of Rochester.

“I guess I was experiencing a bit of withdrawal after having been an avid debater since my freshman year at Science High. So I contacted Kevin to see if he might be interested in partnering with me to compete at the collegiate level,” Pinho responded when asked why he organized Rutgers’ debate team. Pinho turned to Cenac because he and Cenac had debated together at Science Park High School as members of the Jersey Urban Debate League, an organization that makes competitive policy debate accessible to middle and high school students in Newark and in other surrounding school districts.

“I’m glad I agreed to participate,” commented Cenac. “Intercollegiate competition is far more exciting and challenging than high school. During the Binghamton Debate Tournament, we faced Cornell and NYU, among other notable schools. It was quite an adrenaline rush.”

What’s next for the dynamic duo? As champions of the Binghamton Debate Tournament, the Rutgers debate team automatically qualifies to compete in the CEDA Nationals hosted by Kansas City Kansas Community College, March 20-24. The team also is considering participating in the Freshmen/Sophomore Nationals at Michigan State, March 7-9.

As for expanding the team, Pinho and Cenac welcome any Rutgers student who is inquisitive and a self-starter. While prior debate experience is not required, enjoyment of policy research is.