UK team brings home this national championship 33 years after Chef Ouita won it

The University of Kentucky debate team brought home the national championship on Monday, 33 years after UK won it last.
The University of Kentucky debate team brought home the national championship on Monday, 33 years after UK won it last. University of Kentucky

For UK fans who are nervously awaiting the next round of the NCAA basketball championships, no need to worry. UK already has a national championship in the bag.

On Monday, the UK debate team of Dan Bannister and Anthony Trufanov were named the 2019 National Debate Tournament champions. Although UK is consistently in the top national rankings for debate, the team hasn’t won the actual championship since a UK student named Ouita Michel brought home the trophy with teammate David Brownell in 1986.

“I’m so excited, so proud of them,” said Michel, who’s better known today as the owner of a local restaurant empire that includes Holly Hill Inn, Honeywood and Windy Corner Market. She and her former coach and business partner, Roger Solt, followed the online results with bated breath Monday night. “People have no idea. UK is the most successful public university debate team in the country.”

In a statement, Coach Dave Arnett said UK defeated teams from Cornell, Berkeley, and University of Michigan on their way to first place, and UK won 44 out of a possible 46 ballots over four days, which he called one of the all-time greatest performances in the 73-year history of the tournament. UK was ranked number one in the nation after competitions this fall, with a 4-1 record against Harvard.

“In an activity dominated by private institutions and Ivy league schools I think it sends an incredibly egalitarian message that UK can stand with the best of them,” Arnett said. “I just can’t be prouder of my students who believed in themselves and the team and made the impossible possible.”

Bannister and Trufanov were not immediately available for comment. They debated executive privilege and arms control, Barnett said.

Michel said UK’s debate team has long been overshadowed by sports, but the year she won, her mother, Pam Sexton and then-Mayor Pam Miller convinced UK President Otis Singletary (known for his love of UK athletics) to meet their plane at the airport.

“It was so awesome,” she said.

Michel and Solt donate the team’s year-end banquet, hosting the team at Holly Hill Inn.

The entire debate team is: Bannister, Trufanov, Gen Hackman, Jacinda Rivas, Maria Sanchez, Marcus Williams, Josh Kendrick and Stephani Lopez. The coaches are David Arnett, Lincoln Garrett, Amar Adam, Linda Barker and Seth Gannon.