GCU parliamentarians put team on national map

December 10, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Story and photo by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

When it comes to parliamentary debate, there is perhaps no bigger honor than qualifying for a first-round bid to the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE).


GCU speech and debate team director Barry Regan, center, is flanked by juniors Thomas Rotering, left, and Zachary Kuykendall, right.

Two Grand Canyon University juniors, Thomas Rotering and Zachary Kuykendall, have accomplished just that, a feat that puts GCU’s speech and debate team on the national map and brings more status to a University that didn’t have a team until three years ago.

“The NPTE is parliamentary debate’s version of the NCAA basketball tournament,” team director Barry Regan said of the NPTE, scheduled for this March. “It’s incredibly impressive. “

To receive a first-round bid, a team of competitors must be ranked among the top 32 debate partnerships, out of 546 in the nation, by Jan. 1, said Regan, a College of Humanities and Social Sciences instructor.

The achievement is all the more notable because at this time last year, Rotering and Kuykendall were battling to turn losses into wins and self-doubt into self-confidence. They are the only remaining students from the team’s debut year of 2013.

“At one point, I was in Barry’s office talking about the future,” Rotering said. “He said to remember how it felt when you didn’t win and use it during practice and during debate tournaments. I took that to heart.”

They also used last year’s growing pains to study how winning debaters rise above the competition, Kuykendall said. Now, they have become the winners studied by others.

“It didn’t happen overnight, that is for sure,” Kuykendall said. “There were a lot of long hours and long nights.”

Among the competitors the pair looked up to when they were freshmen was Nick Stump, Northern Arizona University’s top debater in 2013 who was ranked No. 4 in the nation. To their delight, Stump now is one of GCU’s coaches and offers a breadth of knowledge. The students are grateful for all the coaches, including Regan and George Talavera and Michael Dvorak.

GCU’s speech and debate team is ranked in the top 20 among 138 schools in that nation that compete in the same debate and speech styles. GCU engages in three different speech events and two types of debate.

Nationally, Kuykendall said about 1 million students are involved in all styles of speech and debate. “It’s really one of the biggest communities that no one knows about,” he said.

In parliamentary debate, one team speaks for the government side and the other for the opposition. Taking turns, competitors speak about a topic that is revealed to them 20 minutes before the contest.

“They speak 300 words a minute on very complex topics,” Regan said.

Because the topic is a surprise, debaters must become familiar with a roster of current events, including recent subjects such as engaging with ISIS, combating global warming, responding to police brutality and race relations in the U.S., Regan said. This adds additional hours to an already work-intensive week that typically includes at least six hours practicing debate and several hours honing speed and enunciation skills, Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall, a marketing major in the Colangelo College of Business from Merced, Calif., was on a mission in Botswana before his freshman year when his father texted him about tryouts for GCU’s speech and debate team.

“I applied from an iPod in Africa on a very poor Internet,” he said. And was offered an audition. “I squeaked in there,” he said. “I consider myself very blessed.”

Rotering, who was raised in Virginia, had some experience in high school with Lincoln-Douglas debate, sometimes referred to as values debate because the format traditionally places a heavy emphasis on logic, ethical values and philosophy. His older brother was also on a debate team, and Rotering looked up to him.

“Speech and debate allows me to interrogate social topics we would never study otherwise,” he said.

For example, he was able to examine the suicide rate among physician’s assistants, a topic that is important to him because he’s studying to be a P.A.

Both students are exceptional at debating military strategy and U.S. hegemony, Regan said, adding that for them to qualify for nationals goes against odds.

“To put in perspective just how rare of an accomplishment this is, no partnership from an Arizona school had earned a first-round bid to the NPTE during the past two years, and only three have accomplished it since 2010,” Regan said. “This puts our team on the national map in a way we’ve never been before.”

Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or laurie.merrill@gcu.edu.

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