Forensics team takes top spot at Northern Calif. tournament

Lee Sandwina, Staff Writer

The campus buzzed. People dressed in business suits grouped around Bertolini Hall, awaiting the tournament director’s announcement of the next round’s parliamentary debate topic. Some blew off steam by stripping off their jackets and throwing a football around; others talked excitedly about previous rounds and a few studied their scribbled notepads. As the tournament director walked up and began his announcement, the entire mood shifted. The noisy, the studious and those playing football suddenly became fiercely intent on the director’s every word. They would only have 20 minutes to prepare after the topic announcement.

The Santa Rosa Junior College forensics team captured first place for the second year in a row in community college sweepstakes at the Northern California Forensics Association Championships held Feb. 11-13, garnering the second-most sweepstakes points of all 26 colleges to attend.

Though preparation and competition are savagely intense, the atmosphere generated universal support for all who competed, regardless of school allegiance. “The sense of community at forensics events is undeniable,” said Co-Director of SRJC Forensics Hal Sanford. Students who competed just minutes before shook hands and discussed the round with the judge, receiving critical, informative feedback on their performance. “Competitors forge relationships otherwise unavailable. Those connections can last a lifetime,” Sanford said.

SRJC students garnered copious awards in many divisions for their efforts. Junior parliamentary debate team members Brenda Nelson and Koji Takahashi were tournament champions in their division, winning every ballot throughout the tournament. Sanford called it a “rare accomplishment,” due to the difficulty of the competition. Takahashi also took home second place in open division after dinner speaking.

Max Humphrey-Calou and Kevin Steeper of SRJC advanced to the quarter-finals in open division parliamentary debate, defeating such four-year universities as UC Berkeley, University of the Pacific and Santa Clara University. “I think the precision required for debate will prepare me for my future endeavors in law,” Humphrey-Calou said. “Debate and law are just like acting—preparation and performance make for a better case.” Steeper also garnered recognition for his fourth place finish in open division impromptu speaking and was crowned tournament champion in novice division prose.

Rigorous competition means tough competitors. Jessica Hollie of Chabot College exemplifies tough competition. Hollie fell down the concrete stairs of Emeritus Hall just five minutes before her next parliamentary debate. Scraped, bruised and bleeding she dictated various facts to her debate partner while others bandaged her damaged legs. Irony dripped from the situation; she was about to debate mandated healthcare. “I didn’t want to let my team down,” Hollie said. She did not. Despite her injuries, Hollie captured the award for top speaker in open division parliamentary debate, and did so competing from a chair.

Kaellie Clein-Cunningham placed second for SRJC in open dramatic interpretation and captured second place in junior division team competition in a coordinated effort with partner Billy Oertel. Oertel finished just two places behind teammate Takahashi in open division after dinner speaking, taking fourth. Partners Brenda Nelson and Anthony Ver-Meer took fourth place in open duo, with Ver-Meer locking in an individual fourth place in novice informative speaking.

In other novice events, Simone Berger took third in program of oral interpretation, Lloyd Smith and Lucas Westcott went undefeated in preliminary rounds and, notably, Jordan Hilly garnered the most individual speaker points of all comptetitors in novice debate.

“Mark Nelson, Marina Whitchurch and I could not be prouder of the team’s stunning performance,” Sanford said. SRJC has three remaining tournaments: Southern California Spring Championships, followed by State and National Championships. “For students to win the NCFA Championship for community colleges two years in a row is wonderful, but they are always looking for ways to improve their preparation, refine their performances and reach their full potential,” Sanford said.