No debate about successes

When Glendale Community College added a speech and debate team 2 1/2 years ago, it comprised a few core members who were skilled at particular kinds of speech contests.

Since then, the team has grown from its original handful of students to about 60 members, and it has expanded its repertoire and started to excel in a more varied array of speech competitions, team members and coaches say.

“We’ve really made a name for ourselves, especially this year,” said Robert Cannon, the 28-year-old president of the team.

Now, when the name “Glendale Community College” is announced at collegiate speech and debate competitions, the announcers know not to assume it is the Glendale Community College that’s in Glendale, Ariz., — a school that competes within the same collegiate speech circuit and has been around longer, Cannon said.

In its first two years, the team was dominated by students like Cannon, who gave strong “interpretation” speeches, a kind of pseudo-theatrical performance in which the speaker tries to convey emotion and feeling while also expressing a point of view on a given subject.

But this year, as the team has grown and new members specialize in different kinds of speech events, team members have started to excel in speech categories such as “limited preparation” and debate, said Ira Heffler, one of the team’s assistant coaches.

In the limited-preparation category, students are given two minutes to choose a topic and give a five-minute speech on it. In the debate category, students take turns arguing both sides of topics taken from current events.

At a competition last weekend at Los Angeles Valley College, a debate team that includes James Heller, 42, and Grant Tovmasian, 32 — both newcomers to the Glendale Community College team — finished in second place. The two argued about topics like the trade embargo against Cuba and environmental policies of the United States.

And the previous week, Heller placed first in a one-on-one debate competition at Cerritos College.

Heller and Tovmasian were debate novices at the beginning of the school year, and they “failed miserably” at their first tournament, Heller said.

But since then, he continued, they’ve practiced for hours and learned about the rules of debate and how they should structure their arguments.

“We’re really the dictionary definition of ‘hard work pays off,’” he said.

Students’ willingness to work hard, and the help of the coaches in recruiting new team members, has helped the team rise this year, Cannon said.

Being part of a speech team teaches students to analyze information, assess an audience and build an argument, said Jean Perry, the director of the school’s forensics department and one of the team’s coaches.

“They understand how to sell their arguments. And that clearly is a critical-thinking skill,” Perry said.

In March, team members will compete at a statewide competition for community colleges, and in April, they will have the chance to go on to national-level competitions.

“You’ve gone from ‘Glendale who?’” to putting Glendale on the map,” assistant coach Allyn Glanzer said.


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