For the first time in the program’s 12-year history, the College of the Canyons Speech Team has been ranked No. 1 at the annual Phi Rho Pi National Tournament, after brining home a combined 14 medals to put a cap on its most successful season to date.
COC finished the event No. 1 in the competition’s intermediate Wheeler division by scoring more than 20 points higher than its closest competitor. Along the way, COC claimed three gold medals, three silver medals and eight bronze medals.
“We keep on telling each other ‘we did it’…because we’re still in shock,” said COC Speech Team director and communications professor Michael Leach. “Watching each team member support each other and root for each other at the awards ceremony will forever be with me.”
Phi Rho Pi is the National Junior College Forensic Association and Honor Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the forensic arts-here meaning speech and debate-at the junior and community college level. The organization dates back to 1927, and offers the only full-service speech tournament at the national level in the United States.
This year’s event, entitled “Going Coastal,” was held in Costa Mesa, with more than 60 colleges from across the nation competing in the five-day tournament.
There are 11 individual events encompassing three types of debate and a category called “interpreter’s theatre.” Events range from team debates to parliamentary debate while individual events are split into Public Address, which includes persuasive and informative speaking; Interpretation, where competitors interpret selections of poetry, prose, or drama; and Limited Preparation, where extemporaneous or impromptu speeches or readings are given with around half an hour to prepare.
After days of live performances, participants were whittled down in every category, sometimes going as many as six rounds before reaching the semifinals. In the case of debate events, teams had to be prepared to debate either side of the chosen issue. For individual events, students had to follow the guideline for whatever type of speech they were presenting, be that informative, persuasive, or simply to entertain.
Entrant schools were split into three divisions according to size: Hindman Division included those schools registered in one to 15 performance slots, Wheeler Division schools were entered in between 15 to 30 slots, and the Wyman Division schools were entered in more than 30 slots.
COC, which entered in 29 categories, ranked first in the Wheeler Division for individual events and overall points, finishing with a score of 87.5.
Under Leach’s direction, the COC Speech Team has appeared at the Phi Rho Pi National Tournament multiple times, but had yet to garner this level of success. Prior to this season several individual students had gained recognition at the national level, but had yet to realize a team victory.
“I have never been so motivated to better myself, not just in performing, but with every aspect of my life,” said second-year team member Teon Sewer about his experience at the national tourney. “The talent on this team is second to none, which makes me want to improve even more. It’s not just a team, it’s a family.”
Others on the roster seemed to echo that sentiment, while also noting the personal gains competing on the team has provided.
“Before joining the speech team I had made plenty of bad decisions and was on the way to making plenty more,” said first-year competitor Diego Ortega, who brought home a gold medal in the Informative Speaking category. “This team saved my life. But I see us as more than a team, we’re a family.”
“When I first joined this team, I knew that I would definitely improve as a performer,” said first-year competitor Jacob Johnson, who won gold in the Prose Interpretation event. “What I did not know is that I would become a better student, networker, and corporate asset. Being on the speech team has taught me lessons that I will be able utilize all throughout my life.”
“Auditioning for the speech team was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” said first-year competitor Valeria Lopez. “I’ve learned to be confident in myself and gained skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have fostered.”
Earlier this semester, the COC Speech team also placed second at the California Community College Forensics Association (CCCFA) State Tournament after bringing home 11 individual medals.
“This season has been amazing,” said Leach. “But what makes it that much more rewarding is watching these competitors support their teammates.”
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