Speech and Debate is on point as host of big event

March 21, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

The GCU Speech and Debate Team got to be the “home team” for the first time when it hosted the 2017 National Christian College Forensics Invitational on Saturday through Monday, and the team’s excellent finish matched the organization of the tournament. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

The pros and cons of a possible Scotland secession from the United Kingdom.

How the ability to genetically lighten or darken skin color affects society.

The impact of social media’s romanticism of depression.

Sophomore Tommee Gleason presented speeches 19 times and earned four top-five finishes. (Photo by Takashi Sato)

These were among dozens of topics debated and presented by competitors from more than 20 schools in the 2017 National Christian College Forensics Invitational on Saturday through Monday at Grand Canyon University.

The event marked the first national college speech and debate tournament ever hosted by GCU. More than 250 students, coaches and spectators participated in the three-day event, and many praised the campus, the weather and the efficient operation of the contest.

The event was also significant for GCU’s Speech and Debate Team, led by director Barry Regan, because the team broke several records and earned second place overall in speech even though it moved into a larger division this year. 

It also marked the first time that GCU’s team had four debate students finish in the top 10 and the first time that 11 competitors in all categories advanced to elimination rounds.

“It’s a big upgrade for us,” said Regan, a College of Humanities and Social Sciences instructor. “I’m very happy with our team.”

It was a marathon-like event for competitors such as sophomore Tommee Gleason, who finished in the top five in four speech categories after presenting five separate speeches in 19 rounds. Senior Tatum Kaiser earned three top-three finishes after presenting four speeches in 15 rounds.

In varsity parliamentary debate, seniors Zachary Kuykendall and Thomas Rotering made it to the semifinal round and competed in eight debates. The team of sophomore Jasmin Sharp and junior Taylor Alandzes came in second place after nine debates.

Each debate was on a different topic announced 20 minutes before the contest.

Senior Tatum Kaiser earned three top-three finishes in speech events. (Photo by Takashi Sato)

Other GCU award winners in various categories included sophomores Keliannn NashBrian White, Kara Sutton and Danny Williamson, and freshmen Matthew Calderwood and Grace Laidlaw. 

Seton Hall University of New Jersey notched the most wins, including first overall in speech and most overall points in the tournament.

Speech is broken into these categories: informative, after-dinner, persuasive and extemporaneous speech; impromptu speaking; and dramatic, prose and poetry interpretation.

Countless hours of preparation and rehearsal go into every speech and debate event. GCU coaches Regan, Michael DvorakJosh VannoyEmma Hong and Jason Hong agonize over word choice, voice inflection and physical gesture.

For example, Gleason portrayed a contrast of personas in his poetry interpretation about high-tech companies and their effect on communities. 

Gleason was at various times weepy and imploring and at other times droll and amusing, but he always was in character.

“I’m just trying to do the best job I can,” Gleason said.

Kaiser had just a few minutes to prepare a speech based on the H.L. Mencken quotation: “It is hard to believe a man is telling the truth if you know that you would lie if you were his place.”

When it was time to begin, Kaiser assumed a certain presenter persona and used the quotation to talk animatedly about how human beings forsake what they believe in order to fit in.

“We forget our own morals to belong to a greater group,” she said.

In one of their nine debates, Alandzes and Sharp argued on behalf of why Supreme Court justices should have term limits.

They won, arguing that Supreme Court justices should be limited to two four-year terms — even if it meant that each new president would nominate nine new justices.

Seniors Thomas Rotering (left) and Zachary Kuykendall were reunited as a debate team and made it to the semifinal round .(Photo by Takashi Sato)

Rotering and Kuykendall, in a preliminary round, successfully opposed a resolution on whether the U.S. government should adopt the Free Speech Fairness Act.

Speaking rapidly and gulping air, Kuykendall suggested that the act could lead to hate speech, encourage candidates to pander to church lobbies and allow churches to shape a large range of policies.

“All of these students are tuned in, they are passionate and they want to be involved in the world,” said GCU English instructor Rene Cooperman, who lends her time and commitment to the team.

The debate marked the first time that GCU students enjoyed the status of being the home team. They were on familiar turf, avoided the wear and tear of travel and could eat meals earlier.

“We get to sleep in our beds,” Kaiser said.

GCU’s first foray into tournament hosting was described as a success by the judges, students and spectators.

“The campus is super pretty,” said student Dakota Yates from Kansas Wesleyan University.

“It’s run so smoothly,” his debate partner, Alex Vore, said of the event. “It’s almost bliss.”

GCU held the debate in buildings 1, 6, 16 and 33, which are near one another.

Barry Regan, Speech and Debate Team director, wore many hats at the tournament.

“Most places, the complex isn’t big enough, or the weather is freezing, or they have to walk a long way in between rounds, or they’ve been there over and over again,” Regan said.

Regan donned hats ranging from catering supervisor, voting overseer, volunteer organizer and main go-to person. It was the 20th anniversary of one of the few national tournaments that includes faith-based speech categories.

“It’s a chance to explore the intersection between forensics and faith,” said tournament director Michael Dreher of Bethel University in Minnesota.

Bruce Kuiper, a professor from Dordt College of Iowa, put it simply: “In terms of the tournament, it’s a great chance for students to test their God-given talents.”

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

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