On the fourth floor of the Holt Center, for five hours every week, members of the Delta College Speech and Debate Team hone their craft
It’s intense. They never know what topic they’ll be assigned. And once they get one, they have only 20 minutes to think about it before oral arguments begin.
Sound scary? They wouldn’t have it any other way.
The group recently turned in a strong performance at the “Big Little City Classic” tournament in Reno. One of Delta's novice debate teams made the quarterfinals while the other took home the championship. A number of students also earned individual speech awards.
Why go through the stress of competitive debate? Let's ask Delta's new championship novice team, 20-year-old Peter Perez and 21-year-old Umbreen Khan.
How did you get involved in debate?
Perez: “In fall 2017 I took Professor (Kathleen) Bruce's class. She was the head coach of the speech and debate team. Three weeks into the class, they had the club rush and I saw the speech and debate team there. I said, ‘Hey, I want to join the team,’ and they said to come to practice that same day. Two weeks later, I was in my first tournament. It was crazy.”
Khan: “I took an argumentation class with Professor Bruce over the summer. She kept telling me to join. Throughout high school at Health Careers Academy I was the morning announcer (laughs). We would always go out on speech trips to go try to recruit investors and doctors to come to our school. So I was very OK with going and talking to people.”
What makes you a good fit for debate?
Perez: “I was always hard-headed. ‘Why do we have to do this?’ ‘That doesn't make sense.’ I questioned everything. ‘We have to do this because you say so? Why? why?’ Arguing was a thing for me.”
Khan: “I’ve always been comfortable with public speaking and I’ve never really been nervous to go up and speak like that, so that gave me a little motivation to try it out.”
Speech and debate Coach Jeff Toney prepares his students for the next tournament.
How do the skills you learn help you?
Perez: “Debate helps me articulate what's on my mind. I have so many thoughts going on in my head, and before this I had no idea how to explain it to the world.
“It helps me in classes too. I have an essay, and boom, I knock it out in an hour and 30 minutes, like nothing. I already have it in my head. I already know how to structure it. I've already got it.”
Khan: “It helps in your everyday life, in how you talk to people and how you approach people. Because there is a certain way that you speak. There are so many emotions going through you, but you have to control yourself and make sure you’re getting your point across in a valid way. Basic communication skills. It’s key to everything, I feel.”
What was it like to win the tournament in Reno?
Perez: “I was like, 'What?' I couldn't really fathom it. I couldn't believe that it happened. But then I said, ‘I want more.’ Now it's even more motivation. That's why we've been practicing outside of practice, on our own time. It's something we really want. It's motivation to do more.”
Khan: “I was so nervous. I blanked out during my first speech. I sat down and was so overwhelmed that I had tears coming into my eyes. I look up and my sister is in the crowd, so she looks at me and gives me a thumbs up. I’m like, ‘OK, let’s calm down.’ I had to get myself together. When we won, I was so surprised that I jumped.”
Peter Perez scribbles notes during his preparation for debate practice last week at Delta College.
Should other students try debate, even those who might be shy or reserved?
Perez: “Oh, definitely. It helps you with researching. It helps you build an idea. Before this, I had no idea what topics to research, how to build evidence, how to build my arguments, how to write a persuasive essay. It's easier to do that now. I would recommend it for anyone.”
Khan: “For sure. Honestly if you’re more reserved I feel it’s a good way for you to step out of your comfort zone and overcome that fear. It really helps you open up and be more comfortable speaking. It’s good for you to just try it out for a semester and see how you like it."
Other winners from Delta's appearance at the Reno tournament:
• Cameron AlterLamb and Tehreem Khan, novice debate quarter finalists
• Tamia Arya, first place in poetry, second place in prose
• Mauricio Patino, first place in programmed oral interpretation
• Ariel White, second place in programmed oral interpretation
• Hugo Gonzalez, second place in persuasive speaking
Congratulations also to coaches Kathleen Bruce, Jeff Toney and Alex Paez.