SMU and Wiley College Finally Debate

Seventy-four years after their meet was canceled, teams from Wiley College and Southern Methodist University finally got their chance to debate.

The two schools met on the SMU campus in Dallas Wednesday night and debated whether the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be shut down. SMU won, 3-0, but people who participated in the debate say that didn't matter.

"Just in having this debate we are all winners because we have overcome a history of racism and divisiveness," SMU debate coach Ben Voth said in Wednesday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News. "We consider this a meeting of an unfulfilled promise," he said.

The two schools were supposed to debate in 1935 but that was called off possibly amid negative publicity surrounding Melvin B. Tolson, who led the all-black college's elite debate team. From 1929 to 1939, the Wiley College team debated 75 times and only lost once. The small historically black college in Marshall, Texas went on to beat the national champion University of Southern California in 1935.

Wiley College had to figure out what to do when students across the country wanted to join its team -- which ceased to exist around World War II -- after the success of Denzel Washington's 2007 film, "The Great Debaters." The school used a $1 million gift from Washington to restart the team under new coach Shannon LaBove.

"It has been a whirlwind with all the media attention," LaBove said. "I'm proud of my students for handling it so well."

LaBove has said she expects the team to be nationally competitive within a couple of years.

The new Wiley College team did an exhibition debate at Oklahoma City University in October to commemorate the 1931 meeting between the two teams, believed to have been the first interracial debate in the South.

Marshall is a city of about 24,000, located 140 miles east of Dallas.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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