New Speech and Debate director walks the talk

August 15, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

In the two years that Michael Dvorak has been a coach for Grand Canyon University’s Speech and Debate team, he has shared a mastery forged from his background as a championship competitor.

It was only fitting that when the opportunity arose, Dvorak was named the team’s director, a natural extension of his formidable talent, passion for excellence and history of bonding with the team.  

Michael Dvorak

“We’re very excited with the expertise that Michael will bring,” said Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “He himself has a reputation that is astonishing, and he has already formed the necessary relationships to move Speech and Debate forward.’’

For Dvorak, it’s a dream more than a decade in the making, one that began when he competed in speech events for Putnam City North High School in Oklahoma City.

“It’s what I’ve been working toward for the past 10 years,” Dvorak said.

Dvorak’s ascension was happily received by team members, such as junior speech competitor Tommee Gleason.

“I auditioned for the team two years ago with a poetry program from high school, all about being a nerd (riddled with Star Wars references, of course). It was a funny program but certainly less mature than most pieces we do at GCU,” Gleason said.

“Mike kept a perfectly straight face for the whole performance, and I kept thinking, ‘I wonder if he doesn’t like it.’ Once I finished my audition, though, Mike said ‘hey’ and pointed down to his feet. He was wearing (Star Wars villain) Darth Vader shoes! He rarely loses his composure, but he always has his sense of humor.”

Tatum Kaiser, who had a tremendous senior year in speech competitions before graduating in April, said Dvorak will do justice to the position.

“Mike is by far one of the most caring and intelligent people I have ever met,” Kaiser said. “Mike has really helped me create a more nuanced performance. He is great at focusing on the small details and refining them so that the entire piece flows well and has a powerful message. I’m so excited for him and for this year!”

A speechified past

Dvorak was a champion speech competitor at Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., where he also earned what he described as a “triple bachelor’s” – one degree each for communications, philosophy and political science.

While earning a master’s degree in communications from Northern Arizona University, he was the head coach of speech for NAU’s speech and debate team.

Two years ago, it was considered a feather in GCU’s cap when Dvorak was hired as Director of Speech and as an adjunct CHSS professor.

Dvorak said he is both nervous and excited about his new role. In addition to his promotion to team director, he is also a full-time faculty member in CHSS.

“I’m looking forward to the next year, both in terms of coming on board as director and also in terms of the new and returning competitors,” Dvorak said.

Who’s on the team

Eleven students are returning from last year’s team, and a number of freshmen and transfer students were auditioning for the remaining spots. Dvorak wants to hold the team to about 20-22 members, which provides an effective staff-student ratio.

It also allows for easier traveling, Dvorak said. Logistics was also a factor in choosing local coaches, including such exceptional graduates as Kaiser, Zachary Kuykendall and Alaina Owen.

Sophomore team member Grace Laidlaw will be the student worker, and senior team member Taylor Alandzes will be the player-coach team intern.  

“I’m most looking forward to seeing returning members interact with new members,” Dvorak said. “You see the cycle of life – and nourishing and nurturing – that happens.”

Another change is that Josh Vannoy, who has been a freelance debate coach, moves to the post of Director of Debate. Dvorak is in the process of interviewing candidates to fill the post of Director of Speech.

Dvorak is working with a young but successful team that has put GCU on the tournament map and has notched impressive victories since it began in 2013.

Last year, the team earned the rank of 14th out of 179 colleges and universities and surpassed perennial top-20 teams such as Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of Oregon.

The first competition of this season, the Aztec Invitational Forensics Tournament at San Diego State University, is scheduled for Oct. 7-8.

Dvorak is looking to another season of the Speech and Debate team raising GCU’s stature.

“It provides another avenue of campus success that isn’t athletic,” Dvorak said. “We are able to showcase intellectual competitiveness.”

Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or


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