April 15, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) They were nervous, they were excited and they wanted to win.
In the end, three La Sierra University Speech and Debate Team members landed key spots during the 2011 Spring Pacific Southwest Collegiate Forensics Association Championships at Moorpark College in Moorpark, Calif.
On Feb. 27, La Sierra students Courtney Young, Michelle Lumban-Gaol and Laura-Shay Adams won placements in various competition categories for the weekend event that attracted a total of 655 individual event entries by students from 41 colleges and universities. Sixty-three individual event judges determined competitors’ standings.
Young won first place in Novice Poetry, qualifying her for competition at the National Forensic Association Tournament. Lumban-Gaol was a finalist in Novice Prose and Adams was a finalist in Novice Impromtu.
No matter the level of experience, the performers all got the jitters. “There’s a mixture of silly excitement and terrified fear in the atmosphere. So it always feels like my first tournament because everyone is so nervous and excited to showcase their pieces,” Lumban-Gaol said.
La Sierra University also won the third place Limited Entry Sweepstakes “Matt Taylor” Award behind two major universities: California State University, Fullerton placed first and the University of California, Los Angeles came in second.
This year’s National Forensic Association Tournament qualifiers include the previously mentioned students as well as Rebecca Barcelo who won third place in novice prose at the 2010 Fall Pacific Southwest Collegiate Forensics Association Championships at Mt. San Antonio College. Additionally, Rathyna Gomer won a finalist award in dramatic interpretation at the California Double Up at Azusa Pacific University in the fall.
Young would have competed during the national tournament held the last week of March, but her event took place on Saturday and her Sabbath convictions prevented her from participating. The team may be able to compete at the Phi Kappa Delta National Tournament in two years, said Christine Law, director of forensics and assistant communication professor in La Sierra’s English and Communication Department. The tournament is held by a national honor society for forensics competitors. “There are three categories of competition, and because their schedule alternates every other year, and two of the categories fall outside of Sabbath hours during alternate years, we have a good chance of competing at a national competition in 2013,” Law said.
“The team is performing remarkably well with our limited resources,” she said. Law credited Head Coach Matt Grisat for his skill at “cutting interpretive pieces and paring them with the right students,” and stressed the moral support she receives from the departments of English and Communication and History, Politics and Society.
English and Communication leaders hired Grisat as an assistant forensics coach in fall 2009. He was later promoted to head coach and Law to director of forensics. “We have remained a strong team ever since, each lending our unique skills to a tag-team approach to achieve the best results in our students. Over the past two years we have had several students qualify for national tournaments,” said Grisat.
Grisat initially connected with Law during a Lincoln Douglass Debate Camp at Riverside Community College. He is an award-winning actor, writer and director for stage, film and broadcast productions, serves as the team’s head coach. He has coached high school and college forensics since 1994 and as a collegiate forensics performer won national competitions twice and several awards through Toastmasters International.
As a coach, Grisat works with individual team members and with the entire team once a week. He encourages students to practice at least 15 to 30 minutes a day and to participate in individual and class coaching sessions. “I take into account each student’s strengths and weaknesses and try to exploit them using their natural abilities to help them achieve their best,” he said.
The competition schedule can be grueling—14 to 16 hour competition days on average, including travel time. And it can be expensive for the department and the students. Team members began raising funds to cover meals during competition after Law discovered that one student was skipping breakfast and lunch to save money. “The more students that compete, the more money we spend for transportation and entry fees. So we do our best to stretch every dollar that we have including sending half our team to a team member’s house to save on hotel fees during a debate tournament,” said Law.
Lumban-Gaol and Adams each enjoyed winning their awards despite the nervous butterflies, and are aiming to better their performances next time around. Lumban-Gaol’s last competition will take place in May. She graduates in June. “Overall, I am going to miss competing and being among people who love to express their opinions fervently. I hope I can continue this some way after college,” she said.
“I still have a lot to improve on,” said Adams. “I haven't learned everything I set out to learn, and I haven’t experienced everything I wanted to. Speech and Debate has helped me grow in innumerable ways and I still have a long way to go.”
In the Novice Poetry, Young delivered a speech that incorporated poems by Billy Holling, Matthew Brandon, Billy Collins, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Dwight Okita. They all centered around the theme of statues of various types and the messages the images are striving to impart. Writes Okita in “Facing the Mannequin,” “…Now she is tired of all this. She wants to open her plastic mouth and speak, of the mannequin’s life: a life of entrances into rooms she cannot love, …”
Grisat edited the poems into a cohesive performance piece and worked with Young on interpretive movements that relay the emotion at play in the works. She practiced every day for an hour and met with Grisat twice a week prior to the championships.
Competing is “nerve-wracking,” said Young, an English and Communications major, “but I just talk to Miss Law and she says, ‘relax. It’s ok.’”
This has been Young’s first year on the Speech and Debate Team. She also competed in an open competition in January and one on Feb.13. Grisat described her as a “special talent” and hopes she will expand her repertoire next season to compete in dramatic and program events. Ultimately, Young is aiming for a career in public health, “if that’s where God wants me to be,” she said. “And it feels like that’s where He’s taking me.”
Speech and Debate Team students acquire skills during competition that benefit their careers and lives, including the art of public speaking under pressure.
“There’s a certain adrenaline rush when you’re given a topic with only two minutes to prep before giving a speech, or when you stand in front of a judge to deliver a piece that you’ve been practicing for weeks,” Law said. “Competing against and watching top speakers from around the Pacific Southwest motivates students to perform their best. I’ve seen students in the circuit transform from lackluster to articulate speakers.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University