GCC Forensics Squad Speaks for Itself: Team dominates European competition, garners trophies

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After the competition: Top row, left to right: Taric Watts, Bjorn Lundberg, Andrea Berning, Eric Yahn, Seth Fromm. Bottom row, left to right: Elizabeth Calvert, Lauren Sublett, Madison Alexander.

Can you picture yourself taking in a GCC lecture while standing in front of the Eiffel Tower? Eight GCC students have done exactly that, as part of the events surrounding the annual International Forensics Association (IFA) competition in Antwerp, Belgium.

The event, held during spring break, includes three full days of competition. The entire trip is nine days. Students from 18 teams, representing 16-20 colleges participated in the event.

GCC sent eight student competitors and three faculty coaches, who are also required to judge at the tournament. This was one of the first years in which the GCC team competed in almost every event offered.

The team didn’t merely compete – it amassed eight trophies in all basic categories:  debate, limited preparation, platform speaking and interpretive speaking.

Notable performances included Taric Watts, Seth Fromm and Andrea Berning, who won multiple awards, and debate team partners Bjorn Lundberg and Lauren Sublett, who earned finalist awards in Parliamentary Debate by losing only one round during the entire tournament.

Others representing GCC in Europe were Madison Alexander, who placed fourth in Prose, Eric Yahn and Taric Watts.

Faculty members accompanying the team as coaches and trip chaperones were faculty members Jay Arntson, director of debate, who coaches the GCC debate team; Roxan Arntson, director of individual events, who leads the GCC speech team and Loren Schwarzwalter, administrative director for the GCC department.

How students were chosen

Selection criteria for the GCC team are straightforward, and favor those who in prior competitions have repeatedly moved past the preliminary round and into the final round.

Each year, about half of the GCC team qualifies for the international competition. “We’re looking for students who have a good chance for success,” said Jay Arntson.“That usually means students who have competed for a year or two.”

But success in speech and debate isn’t enough. Because of the demands of international travel and competition, students also must demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness.

The majority of participants are pursuing majors in Communication Studies. Among them is Elizabeth Calvert, a GCC all-star who regularly has progressed to the finals in her events, mentored new students and demonstrated all-around success. She recently has transferred to ASU.

It’s a special journey for these students. “It’s not uncommon to bring students who don’t have a lot of travel experience,” said Arntson. Watts, for instance, had never been out continental U.S.— going to Europe was a completely new experience.

Schedule of events

The GCC coaches usually hold a three-hour meeting before the trip to make sure team members are prepared with information about the event schedule and expectations. The team arrives a day before competition begins, to practice.

Normally, speech and debate tournaments are held in classrooms. But at the IFA competition, events are held in hotel rooms, generally smaller than most American hotel rooms. The sound is different, too. In carpeted hotel rooms, the sound is more muffled than in classrooms, which are more prone to echoes.

“Some of the students have never competed in a hotel room before,” said Arntson, “So we hold intensive practices in the rooms, just to get used to the sound.” Students and coaches review visual aids and discuss how to enter the room for their upcoming speeches.

To free the rooms for competition, students are required to give up their rooms during the day. Housekeeping is suspended to avoid interruptions during presentations. And students are required to make sure their hotel rooms are clean for those who are competing in their rooms.

The coaches make a daily room check, ensuring beds are made and participants’ luggage is placed in the bathrooms, which are off limits to visitors.

On the three days of the competition, six competitors and a judge take over the rooms.

Not just classroom experience

During the trip, coaches give classes and lectures, including cultural speeches related to one of the destinations on the trip. For instance, in Paris, Jay Arntson lectured on French Enlightenment rhetoric in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Students are also required to do individual projects and present during the trip at locations of their choice.

GCC program a leader

“The GCC debate program is an elite community college parliamentary squad that ranks top 25 in the nation of all community colleges,” said Arntson. “We’ve got a very successful speech team as well.”

GCC often competes not only with other community colleges, but with four-year universities. Fall semester is a busy time, with the team traveling to five tournaments, mostly in California. Everyone on the team is encouraged to participate in a couple of tournaments each semester.

The three GCC faculty members who run the speech and debate programs are former competitors.

Jay Arntson competed on the speech team in high school. He is still in touch with his high school coach. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my former coaches,” he said. “I recognize the tremendous influence they can have.”

Roxan Arntson also competed at the high school level. A GCC alumna, she is a former member of the GCC speech and debate team.

Students gain insights

Arntson maintains that participating in Speech and Debate builds awareness of current world events and helps students learn how our government and politics function.

“It opens the mind to broad and diverse perspectives,” he said.  “It fosters civic engagement and helps students learn to make decisions.”

Those who make it to the international competition often experience something they would never be able to achieve on their own. Taric mentioned he’d never been outside the U.S. and how thankful he was he found the Speech and Debate program.

Returning competitors are also required to mentor new competitors, which maintains the cycle of learning.

How to get involved

Every spring semester, the Communications department sponsors a speech showcase and a debate showcase. An award-winning speaker and debater appear on campus. They often draw a capacity crowd of 100 people:  teachers, students and members of the public.

“It’s our way to give back to the community,” said Arntson. “It’s also a great recruiting tool – people are truly engaged when they see what our students can do.”

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