By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Members of the Speech and Debate team from Grand Canyon University just wrapped up their most successful season ever. And they did it even though the circumstances of their most recent trip could have stopped them cold.
Despite having only two teams competing, GCU finished 19th in the National Parliamentary Debate Association National Championship in early April in Portland, Ore.
“That is a great place to finish with the relatively small number of teams that we had adding points to that,” Forensics Director Michael Dvorak said.
In addition, the GCU team of senior Taylor Alandzes and sophomore Matthew Calderwood made the top eight.
The success continued later in the month at the National Forensic Association (NFA) National Championship Tournament at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Two GCU competitors finished in the top 48: Thomas Gleason in Persuasive Speaking for his speech on forced childhood marriages in the U.S., and Keliann Nash in After Dinner Speech for her talk on female health issues.
“We had our most successful year of any year so far, both on the speech side and the debate side,” Dvorak said, noting that while the team has previously finished 16th, this marked its most individual success ever.
Dr. Sherman Elliott, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said, “As always, I am very proud of our speakers and debaters. Michael Dvorak joined us only a short time ago as our new coach, and I am increasingly grateful and impressed with his leadership, which has moved our team to new heights.”
In case you’re wondering how you approach the topic of female health issues in an After Dinner Speech, which is supposed to lean toward the humorous side, Dvorak had the answer:
“Very carefully. It’s mostly poking fun at the ridiculous nature of some of the status quo – the fact that there are double standards happening, things along those lines. It’s not necessarily making fun of individuals who may have concerns, but it’s making fun of the fact that there are concerns that we haven’t solved yet, and we live in a society that should be able to solve these issues.”
There were some less serious issues on the trip to Wisconsin, but they were challenges nonetheless for the GCU competitors. After they left balmy Phoenix and got off the plane in Appleton, Wis., where the temperature was in the 20s and there still was snow on the ground, their luggage was nowhere to be found.
One bag contained study materials. Important stuff, but the other one might have been even more critical. It was where they had packed their winter coats.
Fortunately, the team members had hoodies and the bags arrived the next day, enabling the GCU competitors to actually venture out of the hotel to see the sights. And wouldn’t you know it – the temperature climbed to the 60s before they left.
The performances of the GCU competitors rose right along with the mercury, making it a month to remember – a month that turned out even better than Dvorak ever could have envisioned.
“To have that level of success was a surprise,” he said. “We were expecting to have some amount of success, but to have individuals ranked in the top 48 out of hundreds at the speech side of things and to have a team finish in the top eight on the debate side of things, those were both far above and beyond what we ever expected.
“It definitely speaks to the dedication and the hard work that the students have put into the activity. While the coaches can give all amounts of lessons and lectures, if the students don’t put in the work, we’ll never see the success.”
He also lauded the work of his coaches, particularly Greg Gorham and Director of Debate Joshua Vannoy.
“I can’t speak any higher about Josh and his ability to bring in success to the team on the debate side of things,” Dvorak said. “I would not have had the season that I did without any of my coaches or any of the support staff.”
Dvorak made some important changes in his first year as the team’s director: He had practices more regularly, and he introduced a slightly different coaching paradigm.
“Rather than trying to be successful for what people want in California, we were trying to be more in line with what they were doing in the Midwest, which is where a lot of the perennial powerful schools competed,” he said. “By trying to replicate what they were doing, we were able to have more success.”
The prospects for next year are equally good. Dvorak expects the team to be about a 50-50 split of returnees and newcomers, and Grace Laidlaw already has been named the team’s captain. Two other captains, one for speech and one for debate, will be chosen soon.
“It’s very similar to basketball teams that have a good, strong corps of juniors and seniors,” Dvorak said. “When they start to graduate and go off to the NBA, they still have that group that they helped mentor, and that’s what we’re looking to do here.”
But they won’t be going to Wisconsin for a change. After spending the last two years there, the 2019 NFA event will be in Santa Clarita, Calif. No winter coats will be needed.
“The kids actually are a little disappointed that they’re going to be stuck in California rather than exploring the country,” Dvorak said.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.