For the first time in the team’s history, ACU Speech and Debate qualified for a championship at a national tournament last weekend.
Joyce Schuster, senior justice and urban studies major from North Richland Hills, and Caleb Orr, sophomore political science major from McKinney, came in second at Washburn University’s competition in Topeka, Kansas. Schuster and Orr also received the fourth and eighth Top Speaker awards.
“Washburn was really exciting for us because it showed all of our hard work was paying off,” Schuster said. “(It’s) one of the tournaments everyone looks at to decide who will do well at nationals because the best teams compete there.”
ACU faced some of the country’s top teams in the tournament including Texas Tech University, University of Missouri and Southern Illinois University. This is the first National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) recognized tournament ACU has qualified for.
“It’s a big deal for ACU to (succeed) like that and make some waves in the debate community,” said Orr, sophomore class president.
The journey to nationals wasn’t an easy one. The team competed in multiple tournaments and made octafinals at William Jewell College, quarterfinals at University of California, Berkeley, and semifinals at Colorado College before heading to Washburn.
Rachael Shudde, sophomore political science major from Tuscola, and Si Alford, sophomore political science major from Trophy Club, broke to quarterfinals as well earlier in the semester. Shudde also won 15th Top Speaker at quarterfinals.
Orr said the team prepares by studying a variety of national cases every week. At tournaments, contestants only have 20 minutes before every round to prepare and analyze the assigned policy.
“Not only do you have to research what’s going on in the world before you go to the debate tournament, but you also have to be able to take any one of those issues and go deep enough to the point that you would become comfortable defending that policy in a debate round,” Orr said.
Orr attributes much of the team’s success to its coach, Dena Counts, instructor of communication and director of forensics.
Counts was elected secretary of the National Parliamentary Debate Association last spring and has since earned the team significant national credibility.
“Coach Counts has done a really great job with the program, and I think the work she’s put in over the last five years has really started to show,” Orr said.
ACU Speech and Debate has competed and won in a variety of tournaments over the last few years. In February, the team took second place at the Oklahoma State University debate championship where Orr was named fourth Top Speaker.
“ACU Speech and Debate is really special because it’s an outlet for civic engagement on so many levels,” Orr said. “It allows you to analyze certain subjects and public policies more critically and get access to a wealth of knowledge within the debate community.”
The team is scheduled to compete at the University of Utah in January for its next tournament.