CARBONDALE -- SIU’s national champion debaters were so good Monday night at a showcase university event that it was hard to tell who won.

Senior Benjamin Campbell and junior Joshua Rivera were teammates through the past school year’s tournaments, ending the season by winning the National Parliamentary Debate Association Championship.

SIU is the first university to win the championship in consecutive years in the tournament’s 21-year history. Rivera was a member of the team for the first championship and will be going for a third straight title next year.

On Tuesday, Campbell and Rivera took to their pulpits against each other to showcase the team’s prowess in an event hosted by SIU’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. The debate was the institute’s first.

“A lot of people never get a chance to see it,” institute Director David Yepsen said. “I am very proud of what these guys are doing, and I am a former debater.”

Prior to the debate’s start in a full auditorium at the SIU Student Center, audience members were asked to stand if they were for or against the night’s topic of whether Illinois should raise the minimum wage to $10.10.

It was close to even, based on a quick head count by the contestants and panel members. Afterward, it was even closer if the head count could be trusted, though Rivera was declared the unofficial winner for moving more people to his side.

Rivera said  he started debating in high school because of a girl. It didn’t work, as far as the girl goes, but that has been the only shortfall when it comes to his acumen for persuasion.

“It gets you interested in things kids our age might not talk have a chance to talk about,” the 20-year-old from Chicago said.

The duo jabbed with attacks of each other’s cited studies, be it Campbell’s claim that higher wages mean more than $6 billion in spending power setting the stage for job creation, or Rivera’s counter-point that strained businesses can’t afford the increase in a state still ripe for a recession.

They played the sentimental card of it’s the right thing to do or the wrong thing depending on the view. Minimum wage provides an escape from poverty. No it doesn’t because of rising consumer costs.

Each was passionate, eloquent, demonstrative.

Cambell, 22, of Springfield, Mo., has been passionate about debate since he started in high school at his father’s urging. He also benefited from it academically.

“Prior to joining debate I was a C or D student. Since I have been in debate I have had nothing but a 4.0 (grade point average),” he said.

Despite the lack of a clear victor, one thing was certain. The duo was prepared, rattling off statistics, anecdotes and a multitude research citations.

Preparation, after all, is the team’s mantra for its national success, the two political science majors concurred. SIU Debate Director Todd Graham also agreed.

“We’re small, we’re proud and we’re smart,” he said in closed the showcase event to a standing ovation.

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