There's a not-so-new kid on the block for the University of the Cumberland's debate team coaching staff.

Justin Durbin has been involved with the debate team in various capacities since 2008, and now he is ready to further the team's winning tradition through his new role as head coach. Durbin plans to pull from his experience as a Cumberlands debate team competitor, graduate assistant, alumni judge, and volunteer coach to propel the team to new heights.

Former coaches Jay Bourne and Dr. Michael Dickman left behind big shoes to fill. In the past 20 years, the Cumberlands debate team has produced 20 individual national champions, won eight national championships, and won an international championship, among other achievements. It’s an impressive list for a team that sometimes has only a handful of debaters. But even national-champion teams can improve. Durbin hopes to challenge the team in two ways: first, by teaching them to develop successful research strategies, so team members can quickly and effectively research topics in limited-preparation events, and, second, by getting the team “back to the basics” to build muscle memory in key debating skills like note-taking.

“I believe strongly that preparation is key to success,” he says. “By providing my team all the tools needed to be prepared for an event, that places team members of all experience levels in the best position to succeed.”

Durbin’s overall goal is to ensure that the team members develop lifelong skills like public speaking, note-taking, and studying strategies. He also hopes they grow in confidence and create great memories from on-campus events and travel to tournaments. As he says, “First and foremost, I want the program to be something that enriches the lives of our team members and campus community.”

The biggest challenge Durbin faces in his first year is recruitment. He attributes lower numbers in the past couple of years to various circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

"My first task will be building a team almost entirely from the ground up," he explains. “Unlike most years where you can use upperclassmen leadership to assist with the team, this year I will be starting with students who are brand new to the activity. While this is a challenge, I will still have the mentorship of two former UC Speech and Debate coaches, Mr. Jay Bourne and Dr. Michael Dickman, to help guide me through this first year. I also hope to recruit recent alumni that are still in the area to help with tournament logistics this season.”

Durbin says being part of the speech and debate team helps students plug into campus life, travel and visit various locations across the region and country, and sharpen crucial academic skills. Participating in speech and debate also benefits students post-graduation by helping them build resumes, and the skills learned from debate translate into a career setting.

“Coach Bourne has told me that he’s had multiple students message him to let him know that they got a job, scholarship, or even a spot on a mock trial team in law school due to their experience with the debate team," Durbin says.

All interested in joining the team can contact Justin Durbin at justin.durbin [at] (justin[dot]durbin[at]ucumberlands[dot]edu) or call him at (606) 539-4657. For more information about the clubs and activities that University of the Cumberlands offers, visit