Speech and Debate Team Win Big in Pasadena

This past weekend, the Santa Monica College Speech and Debate Team exemplified their composed eloquence in a debate tournament at Pasadena City College, five of the nine participating members subsequently bringing home awards for their excellence.

Among the strictly pristine, black suits and dresses of competing students from other schools, the SMC Corsairs stood out as the spirited, casual intellectuals, some even wearing rock-band T-Shirts under their suit-jackets as they headed into the separate competitions.

Occurring simultaneously in different classrooms on the campus, the competitions included extemporaneous speaking, parliamentary debate, and impromptu speaking, all of which allow a short amount of preparation-time for a student or a team immediately after they receive a premise, followed by their speech or a debate on that topic. Clearly, these trials require worldly cognizance, proficient critical thinking and well-structured dialect, which the students gain from both volunteer coaches as well as their limited opportunities to participate in debate tournaments.

Nick Bronson, an SMC finalist in impromptu speaking and a beginning team member, strode up to the front of the classroom to perform an architectonic speech, based on a premise given to him by an administrator, after taking only a minute-and-a-half of his allocated two-minute preparation time. Two other newcomers, David Kohan and Jonathan Moss, also placed as finalists in the tournament, which coach and founder of the team, Nate Brown, calls "an amazing success." In addition to this, Vice-President Ilona Gerbakher and her teammate, President Lauren Moscatel, won a silver metal in parliamentary debate, and Gerbakher went on to not only place as a finalist in impromptu, but to win the title of "Best Speaker" of the entire tournament.

"Whenever we actually compete, we do surprisingly well," said Bronson, "but funding is always an issue for us. We can't get as much experience as we'd all like." Indeed, the students certainly exemplify enthusiasm for the experience of live debate: Kenan Heppe, another competitor representing SMC, solitarily rivaled an opposing team, since his partner fell ill and could not partake. "Santa Monica [College] doesn't give up," said Heppe, adding that, even though he had to eventually forfeit because he lacked a partner, the experience was a "learning experience [and a] good opportunity for [him] to get double the debate." But even though the team must "pick-and-choose" which tournaments to attend, due to a tight budget, Bronson explains that he nevertheless does "respect the budget committee, since they do so much to facilitate [the team's] needs."

Brown, who has been a full-time speech professor in the SMC Communications department for eight years, and who founded the Speech and Debate Club three years ago, concurs with Bronson: "The team could not have started without the SMC Foundation," he said. Reportedly, in addition to the Inter-Club Council budget that the club automatically receives every semester, it also receives added financial support from Associated Students, due to its uniquely extensive activities and requirements. Also, with the assistance of several generous, part-time volunteers from the SMC faculty, such as Dana Del George, the English Professor who chaperoned the team over this past weekend, the team gains extra support where coaching, transportation and hosting are concerned.

Brown explains that the Speech and Debate group has had to be "creative" with fundraising, since it is an entity that exists as a club where the minimal budgets are concerned, but actually functions as a more active team. "Several faculty members from the communications department have been donating straight out of their salaries," said Brown, "and several others have been donating textbooks to be sold." But despite these valiant efforts, the tight budget still limits the team, putting it on unequal footing with the other colleges with which it competes; colleges that have institutionalized debate "programs," hire anywhere between two and eight coaches to train the students, and allocate a larger budget to the debate team as they would to a football team.

Brown hopes that, eventually, the college will hire a coach for the team and provide a regular budget, resulting in more interest from students. "But that may take a couple more years," said Brown "And in the meantime, I would appeal to other faculty on campus [who] feel that the Speech and Debate Club is important, to keep us going until the college can provide support. Can they, for example, volunteer one day to be on staff with the team? Can they donate once a week, once a month, anything at all? Money's important, but on-sight faculty is important too, and it's even more difficult to find someone who's available on the weekend [than it is to raise money for the team]."

Yet regardless of these issues which come up as the team grows, Bronson reiterates that time with the SMC debate team both on campus and at tournaments such as this recent event guarantees educational experience: "we find a certain life in [debate] ...and I guess that's what the club is all about."