USU Debate team is more than a team, they’re a family


Notecards line the fourth floor of the Merrill-Cazier Library two to three times a week during the semester. Several students pace back and forth, attempting to memorize speeches, or to brush up on their skills for the next tournament.

The Speech and Debate team at Utah State University has had an exceptional year. For them, each new tournament brings different challenges and a jittery excitement that simply cannot be explained.

Naomi Ward, an undecided freshman, joined the debate team because of her high school experiences in Speech and Debate. She really wanted to keep going and practice her skills.

“My favorite part is doing speeches and hanging out with the team,” she said. “I love that we are all good friends that can hang out together, whether it be watching informative documentaries on the weekends or just spending time together.”

Ward has enjoyed doing speeches on the subject of the most recent presidential election because they are relevant to today, as well as the subject of whether Donald Trump should be president. She has also enjoyed learning about economics and trade policies, even though it is one of her least favorite topics to speak on.

The many challenges that debaters face include the stressfulness of debates, preparing a case in 20 minutes, and getting ready for tournaments.

“It’s all weirdly fun,” Ward said.

KC Esplin is a first year novice on the USU Debate team, who joined the team, courtesy of his Speech and Debate teacher. His professor began recruiting during the class and simply mentioned that it takes a desire to try.

Esplin said, “I love being able to learn a lot on a broad spectrum of topics. A few I have had the opportunity to research included things like domestic policies, Trump and Twitter, and Columbus Day as a holiday.”

Garrett Smith, a senior in mechanical engineering, is serving as the informal president of the team and has participated on the Speech and Debate team for four years. Upon returning from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he wanted a social connection and to face his fear.

“I was overwhelmed, but our coach instilled potential and stressed the importance of staying involved. From there I discovered my true passion and never missed a tournament, “ Smith said.

While Speech and Debate can be a really fun way to connect with other team members, it isn’t always a piece of cake, said Zoe Hall, a freshman majoring international studies and minoring in religious studies. The team has had to combat a number challenges in different ways.

“Our team has been really motivated to memorize for our speech events all year, but there are two people, specifically Zoe and I that have struggled to memorize all year before nationals,” Smith said. “Our coach has been on us all year long, but even though we struggled and our memorization wasn’t as good as it should have been, our coach’s main priority was being able to help us learn to speak fluently and speak articulately. We still did well and that’s what is important.”

Other challenges for team members include memorizing facts, knowing what to say, preparing for for debates, assembling a case in 20 minutes, planning for tournaments and learning how the system works.

Chantelle Gossner, a freshman majoring in political science and communication studies, loves being a member of the debate team because more than any other activity, it fosters interdisciplinary activity as well as critical thinking.

“But beyond that, debate is my Logan family. I love my teammates so much. Competitive debate is awesome, but the community it creates is ten times better, she said.”

The USU Speech and Debate team recently competed in the IPDA Debate Nationals held at Boise State University in Idaho. Utah State brought eight competitors, competing against 72 other schools from 30 states.

“Our team did really well,” said Sam Hendricks, a freshman double majoring in communications and law and constitutional studies. “Members of our team closed out the novice division by taking first and second, we took second in the junior division, and our very own Tanner Peterson took first in the open division, which is the most challenging level of the national competition.”

Because of the current way that their program is funded, the Speech and Debate Team is not a budgeted item from the university, which makes it difficult for the team to travel and even pay entry fees for competitions.

To help with these hardships, the outgoing College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean donated money for the team to attend competitions this year, as well as their coach Tom Wirthlin who over the past 20 years has put in a lot of time and money from his own pocket for the team.

“We are hoping that with our recent wins, we can show people that we can be competitive, so we can expand our team, we can go to more places, we can have more people compete, and also that we can spread the love of Speech and Debate,” Smith said.

Team members have mentioned that there is so much to love about debate.

Hendricks said, “I love that people love debate. Our team is obnoxiously grossly close. Everyone in the debate community is so nice and giving. Even in situations where you’re pitted against people during a debate, you’re able to back away and still be friends afterwards.”

As Smith graduates this May, he wanted to leave a few parting thoughts with his team.

“I think the team is at a really good place right now to continue building where it is at. It’s hard and sad to leave but I totally feel comfortable leaving because I know the team is set up for success,” he said.

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