When Orange Coast College’s Speech, Theater and Debate team won the Spring Championship Tournament for community colleges in the Pacific Southwest last month, it was almost expected.
For the past four years, the team has won state and national championship tournaments — a feat that no other community college has achieved in nearly nine decades.
“It was the first time in 89 years that any team has won four state and national championships in a row,” Shauhin Davari, director of the OCC interpretive event team said. “No one has ever won four state championships in a row and for sure, no one has ever won four national in a row. That’s probably our biggest accomplishment.”
For the team, which prepares students with the help of many coaches for communication tournaments and competitions while helping them better their speaking, the win streak has required long hours of preparation. Some students even wake up at 4 a.m. almost every day to make sure they have enough time to practice with coaches.
“Just like at a track and field meet when students go and compete in the 400-meter and the high jump, we have public speaking events where students can do persuasion at a tournament and we have people who go and do debate at the same time,” Davari said.
Davari is an OCC alumnus who was on the team after being recruited by a friend of his who bribed him to attend a meeting.
“My friend told me he would buy me a cup of coffee if I went to the speech and debate meeting. I went and fell in love with the activity itself and I still do it today because I believe it is one of the single greatest benefits to the OCC student body,” Davari said.
OCC’s Speech, Theater and Debate Team is one of the largest student organizations on campus with over 60 members. The team turns no student away no matter their situation or lack of experience with speech and debate as long as they are a good team player and work hard, Davari stated.
Unlike some clubs and teams on campus, the team doesn’t have tryouts. However, not everyone on the team gets to go to state and nationals.
“We have an open door policy. Anyone who is interested is welcome and no experience is needed.” Sherana Polk, the director of forensics for the team said.
Polk is one of the head coaches of the team and handles the budget, assigning the students to competitions and making sure everyone is prepared.
Another aspect of the team entails helping students find who they are and what they want to do with their lives, according to Polk.
“I started at a community college and it was speech and debate that helped me find direction. I was a 19-year-old woman who didn’t know what she was doing,” Polk said.
When preparing for a competition, the team practices daily for hours at a time. Getting ready for state and nationals requires up to 30 hours per week.
In the speech and debate room, each coach has a list of appointments on their door of students they are helping with their speeches that week. According to Davari, each coach is a volunteer and they put in eight to 12 hours a week helping students better their speeches.
“When we get closer to state and nationals the coaches are volunteering 15 to 20 extra hours a week, on top of the classes they teach, in order to work with students on their speeches,” Davari said. “It’s a lot. It is a lot of work and it is quite the undertaking.”
The coaches also help the students develop their strengths and become more competitive as they go deeper into the program, according to Polk. In order to ensure the students are getting the best training and guidance, Polk makes sure that all of the coaches can help any student no matter their problem and category.
Some of the students who excel on the team have won scholarships. According to Davari, in the last three years, members of the team have won $350,000 in student scholarship money, however, that number is made up of only full rides and not partial rides.
Students who work hard and are passionate for the team can also get places as judges and part time coaches for the team.
“I was the top speaker in California 2017,” Erin Roberts, a 29-year-old political science major at OCC said. “I was No. 2 in the country at the national tournament.”
Roberts was a part of the team for three years and no longer competes. However, she is now a part time coach for the Speech, Theater and Debate Team, as well as a judge for tournaments on the weekends.
According to Roberts, the team is a place where anyone has the ability to talk about what matters the most.
“It will change your life. If you are interested in speaking better or gaining confidence then just take the plunge,” Roberts said. “It is a family you never knew existed.”