Preparation boosts Speech and Debate

September 19, 2018 / by / 0 Comment

The 2018-19 GCU Speech and Debate team. (Photo by Travis Neely)

By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

The increasingly popular saying, “Champions are made when no one is watching’’ applies to the recent efforts of Grand Canyon University debaters Matthew Calderwood and Grace Laidlaw and their assistant director, Joshua Vannoy. A relentless summer schedule — lengthy reading sessions, current events quizzes, memorization drills, mock debates and speeches — produced a 10th-place finish (among 49 teams) last weekend at the Georgia B. Bowman Invitational at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

Nearly 150 competitors took part in the event, which included Calderwood and Laidlaw’s category: National Parliamentary Debate Association (NDPA)/National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) style. The pair from the GCU Speech and Debate team won four of their seven matches to advance to the 16-team “out’’ round, where they were eliminated by a pair from the University of California-Berkeley.

NDPA/NPTE-style features preparation for a myriad of topics and then maxed-out adrenaline on one topic since the topics – and the assigned stance — are not revealed until 20 minutes before the debate start time. Competitors are not permitted to bring printed materials into the debate room, only handwritten notes. Against a team from the United States Air Force Academy, the Lopes pair successfully argued against the U.S. placing substantial restrictions on use of drones in Syria and Iraq.

Against Carleton College of Minnesota, they successfully argued against the U.S. significantly accelerating germline gene modifications.

“What led them to doing so well is our debate work in the offseason,’’ Vannoy said. “Their hard work from the summer helped them be competitive and gave them a head start. This tournament is one of the hardest of the year, even though it is first, because most schools only send a few teams.’’

Laidlaw, a senior from Hawaii majoring in exercise science, is known for her devotion to current events. An avid reader, she keeps abreast of national and world news, according to Vannoy.

Calderwood’s strength is memorization and speed.

“It is a critical skill to be able to quickly and strongly make arguments,’’ Vannoy said, noting that Calderwood is adept at following the four-point refutation: state the issue and stance (claim) of the argument, provide the counter argument (the other sides’ points), provide a warrant (evidence to support claim) and show the impact or importance of being on that side of the issue.

“I have developed this method through hours of practice and watching videos of individuals making claims in documentaries and attempting to refute those claims with that method,’’ said Calderwood, a senior from Texas majoring in government with an emphasis in legal studies. “I was aware the context of that region, Syria and Iraq, and I understood the drone topic, but I had not yet practiced with that specific resolution, restricting drone use. That challenge was exciting, and I believe we did very well because of our coaches’ emphasis on adaptability.’’

In terms of the germline gene modifications, Calderwood said he was not aware of the topic.

“We did well in that there due to our coaches’ knowledge and the research skills we have practiced — I certainly felt like an expert in that round,’’ he said. “We have an excellent coaching staff and a team that is committed to the program and each other as teammates.’’

The team, which is led by College of Humanities and Social Sciences Instructor Michael Dvorak, will be at full strength for the next tournament, Oct. 5-7 at San Diego State University.

In his last season on the debate team, Calderwood plans to build off the performance at the Georgia B. Bowman event to surpass last spring’s effort at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon: a top-five national finish at the NDPA event, the best performance in GCU debate team history.

“I gave up on average 20 hours a week all summer because I wanted to improve on last year’s performance,’’ he said. “I want to bring a championship home to Lope Country.’’

Laidlaw and Calderwood developed chemistry and collaboration as partners their first year on the team when they were quieter members, listening and learning from others. Their natural extroversion has completely emerged this year along with their leadership skills — Calderwood is the captain of the debate team, and Laidlaw is the captain of the combined speech and debate teams.

 After working with other debaters, they have reunited and are a formative pair with a combined 18 years in forensics, including high school.

“Grace and I have experience, excellent coaches and a desire to succeed,’’ Calderwood said. “We both have a natural understanding of how each other thinks, and we can predict what we would want to say to certain arguments.’’

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Debate is no laughing matter, but it can be fun too.

GCU Today: Speech and Debate team warms to the task again.


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