This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Speech Team

Ross Coleman

Some people sky dive. Others ride motorcycles.

But then there are some who get a rush out of speech and debate.

Two and a half years ago GCC President John Davitt approached Jean Perry, the chair of Language Arts, and Ira Heffler, a language arts teacher, with the hopes of starting a speech and debate team at the college. Perry and Heffler took the idea and ran with it. They built up a solid program that gained respect not only in their league, but also around the state.

Enter head coach Josh Fleming. Fleming was hired fall 2006 at GCC after being a speech instructor and coach at Pasadena City College and Cal State L.A.? He has been involved in Speech and Debate for 10 years, competing for four years, and he is now in his sixth year of coaching. He has also had the chance to coach at Northern Arizona University and Palomar College.

Glendale has built a very strong program in seemingly a short amount of time. Last year the team was able to compete in the national speech and debate tournament, finishing second among two-year schools. “We are so much like a family and there’s so much worth and merit to it,” says Heffler.

GCC speech and debate has grown from about 12 students to 40 members this semester.

“Approximately 40 students comprise our team. 10 are return competitors?from last year.?We’ve experienced quite a surge in?interest in our team this year, so we’ve got roughly 30 new recruits this semester,” said Fleming.

“We’ve grown like crazy, we are going to tournaments, we’re getting a lot of trophies,” added Heffler.

The speech and debate team competes in 16 tournaments a year, mostly local. They also compete in the California Community College Forensics Association State Championship Tournament in Concord and Phi Rho Pi Community College National Tournament in Chicago, both in the spring.

Speech and debate tournaments are in two phases: “The first part is speech. The speech part breaks down into three areas; Limited Preparation speaking, in which the speaker is given a topic and has a certain amount of time to prepare and speak on that topic. Then there’s Platform speaking where speaker is give prepared, memorized speeches on a variety of topics and with a variety of objectives (for example: informative and persuasive speaking).

Finally there’s a performance-based area of speaking called Oral Interpretation of Literature, which is similar to acting, but more stylized because it avoids using any of the traditional theatrical elements such as make-up or costume. “Speeches are divided by the genre of literature that the speaker has selected, such as prose, poetry, or dramatic literature,” Fleming said.

“The other part is Debate,” said Fleming. “There are a variety of styles of debate, but here on the West Coast we participate in what’s called Parliamentary Debate. It’s modeled after British Parliament procedure and argumentation. Students?work in two-person teams. They are given a topic and then have 20 minutes to prepare before the debate begins.?The topic changes every round.”

Fleming brings lofty goals to the team. “[We want] to build a strong team with members who have solid, competitive events that will help the success of GCC at any tournament,” he said. “[We] also to ensure that our newcomers from this year stay interested to return for the next season. Finally we would like to place in the top five in the state, we placed?sixth last year with the fewest competitors at our state tournament, and place in the top 10 among community colleges at our national competition.”

The Speech team is a team that is not only successful and wants to win, but also enjoys doing what they do. “Do we like to win? Sure it feels good but there’s something else more valuable that we gain,” said Heffler.

In recent competition GCC has continued to have success. On Oct. 20 at the Todd Lewis Invitational hosted by The Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, Robert Cannon placed second in Poetry Interpretation and placed fourth along with Tiffany Brian in Duo Interpretation. On Oct. 21 at the Cougar Invitational hosted by Azusa Pacific, Cannon and Brian won the Duo Interpretation while Arturo Espinosa placed second in Extemporaneous Speaking.

Last weekend at Pasadena City College, Glendale competed in a tournament for first-year speech competitors. James Heller and Grant Toumasian advanced to the semifinal round and won a bronze medal in parliamentary debate.

The team will be in action next at the Pacific Southwest Collegiate Forensics Association Fall Championship tournament. It will be held on Cal State Los Angeles’s campus from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.