Collegiate Debaters Win Two National Championships

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Elijah Smith (inset photo), and the Rutgers-Newark Debate Team

Elijah Smith, a junior at Rutgers-Newark's School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA), and Ryan Wash of Emporia State University made history in the collegiate debate world. Smith and Wash garnered this year’s national Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) championship title and clinched the championship title for the National Debate Tournament (NDT). No other team has won both tournaments in the same academic year. Smith and Wash also are the first all African-American team to win the NDT and the second all African-American team to win the CEDA tournament.

The CEDA tournament was hosted March 23-26 at Idaho State University where Smith and Wash defeated the formidable debaters of West Georgia University.  The NDT took place March 28-April 1 at Weber State University in Washington where Smith and Wash were victorious over a powerhouse team from Nortwestern University.

Newark native Smith is a graduate of University High School, where he began his policy debate career. He also is a charter member of the Rutgers-Newark Debate Team, which received an overall #1 ranking by CEDA for the Northeast Region for the 2012-2013 season. He is on leave this semester and is a visiting student at Emporia State University in Kansas.

“Policy debate is in my blood,” comments Smith. “It’s a tremendous honor to add value to multiple debate teams, particularly one I helped to build right here in my hometown of Newark. Winning the national championship title just goes to show that Newark does debate and does it exceedingly well.”

Praise for Smith and his impressive accomplishments abound. “For so many reasons, I am thrilled by Elijah Smith’s stunning victory in becoming a national champion of cross examination, as well as the performance of the entire Rutgers-Newark Debate Team. Elijah has achieved something truly remarkable through what had to have been a lot of grueling hard work, determination, presence of mind and mental agility, and God-given talent,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), an alumnus of Rutgers School of Law—Newark. “It is my hope that New Jerseyans throughout the state celebrate you as the champion you are. You have done Rutgers University, and the State of New Jersey, tremendously proud. Thank you and congratulations!”

“Elijah’s hard work and talent are unmatched by any student that I have had the pleasure of working with. This championship is the culmination of more than six years of debate training in Newark (from high school to Rutgers) and speaks volumes about the quality of our programs,” notes Chris Kozak, director of the Rutgers-Newark Debate Team.

The Rutgers-Newark Debate Team, which debuted on the campus as a result of the partnership between the Office of the Chancellor and Jersey Urban Debate League (JUDL), to establish a pipeline program with Newark high schools, has grown considerably in a three-year span. Under the leadership of Kozak and the auspices of SPAA and JUDL, the number of debaters has increased from two to as many as 10, with novice, junior varsity, and varsity teams competing throughout the entire academic year in more than 10 competitions.

“It’s definitely gratifying to see a vision come to fruition,” remarks Marcia Brown, associate dean of program development at SPAA and a member of the Advisory Board of JUDL.  For more than 20 years, Brown has been a driving force in bringing the art of policy debate to the youth and young adults of Newark.

Smith participated in the CEDA and NDT national championship tournaments through Emporia State University's exchange program, which was created to share best practices among seasoned and newly formed collegiate debate teams.


Founded in 2006, SPAA is the first new school established at Rutgers University in more than 20 years. SPAA has one of the top 10 graduate programs in the United States in public management and administration, according to rankings released by U.S. News & World Report.

SPAA’s mission encompasses competence, diversity, knowledge and service, and the school faculty members equip future leaders and educators with the tools necessary to efficiently and effectively deliver government services. It is the only such school at a public university in New Jersey. SPAA enhances New Jersey’s capacity to develop more effective government at all levels, offering degree and non-degree programs, research and technical assistance to make government more transparent to citizens. The school’s most recent initiatives include a national network on performance measurement and reporting, a municipal public performance measurement system, and the development of the E-Governance Institute.

For more information about the school, visit


Founded in April 2001, JUDL is dedicated to enhancing critical thinking, research and presentation skills for educationally underserved students of color by making academic competitive debate accessible to all high school and middle school students in its targeted districts in New Jersey – Newark, Orange and East Orange. Each year, thousands of students compete in urban debate leagues – afterschool academic debate programs that coach students to research, develop, and debate national policy proposals. Under the umbrella of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues, JUDL has been able to assure that more than 2,200 inner city students have opportunities equal to their suburban counterparts in mastering the intellectual rigor of academic debate. The many successes of JUDL debaters support the notion that when the playing field is level, all students have the potential to make academic strides and become tomorrow’s leaders.