Up for Debate

Up for Debate

Feb. 5, 2014

Speech and debate team continues tradition of excellence at Pacific University.

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“It really profoundly changes who you are.”

Dean Broyles, head coach of the speech and debate team at Pacific University, believes the team experience can be transformative for students.

The team has been rooted in the Pacific University culture since 1863 and, with the help of Broyles and his dedicated students, it has evolved into a well-known program of scholarship and intellectual development both on campus and in the competitive circuit.

Broyles took over as director of the team in 2008. When he was hired, the program was experiencing strain, due to the department shift from Communications to Media Arts and after the loss of Hap Hingston and Fred Scheller ’43, MA ‘54, two integral names in the history of speech and debate.

“A lot of people, specifically our alumni, are connected to the two icons because they helped put Pacific on the board for being a legitimate place for speech and debate,” Broyles said.

The challenge served as an opportunity for Broyles, who expanded the program from being an exclusive individual-events team to a comprehensive program, including two styles of debate.

More impressive is the team’s growth in scholarship and manpower. In the past five years, it has grown from hosting eight students to 17 students on scholarship.

Part of the success can be attributed to the emphasis Broyles and his assistants put on recruitment and involvement with the Pacesetters scholarship competition. He said the team typically gets five to eight solid prospects through Pacesetters alone and really works to target individuals who are interested in Pacific.

This tactic helped bring Matthew Yasuoka ‘15, a leader on the team and winner of the overall speaker award in the team’s last tournament, to Pacific.

Being from Hawai‘i, Yasuoka said he always told himself he wouldn’t go to Pacific because everyone he knew did. He said it was being recruited and the speech and debate team’s place on campus that changed his mind.

“Generally schools don’t really advertise their debate teams that well, but I really think we excel in advertising, especially with the scholarships,” he said.

Generally, the team competes in several smaller tournaments across the area, bigger tournaments at Lewis and Clark, Linfield, Western Washington and Oregon State, and three large-scale tournaments a year.

Large scale tournaments, like those by the National Forensics Association, International Forensics Association and American Forensics Association, are held in a different place every year. Last year, IFA took the team to Antwerp, Belgium, where they competed and went sightseeing for five days.

For Yasuoka, speech and debate is more than competition, it is a way of life and a way to connect with the younger generation. Along with his involvement on the team, Yasuoka also spends five to six hours a week coaching forensics at the high school and plans to coach after he graduates.

“Speech and debate is a community based on giving back, and I’m really excited for that opportunity,” he said

Yasuoka knew he was meant for speech and debate since a seventh-grade debate about the annexation of Hawai‘i, but, for some, the idea came much later and changed their lives.

Michael Sproles ’15 was recruited for his high school debate team for three years until he “gave in” and joined during his senior year. In his first year of competing, he earned first place in the state of Hawai‘i in dramatic interpretation and placed in the top 60 at nationals.

Sproles said that by the time Broyles recruited him for speech he had already fallen in love with it.

Outside of team practices and tournaments Sproles meets with the coaches and practices for a few hours every week on his own to improve his events, a level of dedication displayed in each of the members of the team.

The speech and debate team offers opportunities far exceeding competitive success and travel, Broyles said.

Being a part of the team teaches students vital skills both academically and professionally in the long term.

Yasuoka said being on the team has given him the ability to think critically and analytically and to write effectively. He said the tools he has gained will be imperative as he hopes to become a professor.

Even more important than academic and professional skills, for some students, is the confidence gained by being on the team.

For Sproles, joining the speech and debate team was the first time he realized that he was really good at something. He said he was in a low place but, when he started winning events, he gained a confidence.

“It was the first time I felt like I was a part of a family outside of my own family. I just got really confident out of nowhere,” he said.

Broyles thought back to his time on a speech and debate team and to his students and said his experience with speech and debate, both competing and coaching, radically changed his life and opened his eyes to a whole new terrain of opportunities.

“It’s a lifelong kind of experience that you invest yourself to,” he said.