S1E1 - The Context of Trophies
Talon: This episode is brought to you by the Professional Speech and Debate Association. Join the newest and most exciting league in forensics. Anyone can enter at any age and earn large cash prizes. Learn more at ProSDA.com.
Hannah: Yeah, why didn’t we do that?
Shauhin (Overlapping): Hey, child! Come back here!
Hannah (Overlapping): What the hell are we doing? Hey Kid!
Shauhin: What are you doing tomorrow at 2:20?
THEME MUSIC STARTS
Talon: Hi, my name is Talon Stradley and this is Soapboxers. What you just heard was a room full of passionate speech and debate coaches flagging down some random student to get him to join the speech and debate team. A few years ago, that happened to me and now, I’m back after 2 years to document the speech and debate experience and bring that to you. This is Soapboxers.
THEME MUSIC ENDS
Talon: I want you to take a moment and think about what exactly speech and debate is. What do you see? Maybe you picture a bunch of white ivy league students in fancy suits debating foreign policy in a packed auditorium. Maybe you see a handful of high schoolers sitting at the front of their favorite teacher’s classroom advocating for or against a school uniform. Maybe you see someone, standing on their soapbox on a street corner, shouting to save the world from annihilation.
I think this is mainly how speech and debate exists in the collective conscious of American culture. A noble, combative, activity. Pounding fists and standing up for what you believe in! Nixon versus Kennedy! The battlefield of ideas incarnate!
While it can certainly feel like that at times, the reality is that speech and debate, often referred to as forensics, is a disciplined, focused, diverse, and fun activity that thousands of people across the world compete in every year. And while it’s been boiled down to a Hollywood climax for most people, there is a lot more going on than you first might expect. After all, it’s called Speech and Debate, but do you even have an idea of what the Speech part of it looks like?
If not, that’s ok! It’s more than ok because that means you’re listening to the right podcast. We’re not just gonna tell you about speech and debate, we’re going to bring you right into the practices and meetings of one of the top community college teams in the entire nation: Orange Coast College.
So, who better to introduce us to Speech and Debate and Orange Coast College than their very own Director of Forensics, Shauhin Davari.
Shauhin: Uh, my name is Shauhin Davari. I am the Director of Forensics for Orange Coast College.
Talon: Shauhin is a young energetic professor with thick eyebrows and a well kept beard. He’s the kind of professor who whirls into the classroom right as class starts raring to go. If you’re late on the first day, he’s got his own way of handling that. Shauhin: You missed free cookies cuz you were late. The cookies were good, right?
Talon: You actually may have seen Shauhin before in a viral video from a few year’s back. In it, Shauhin tosses fistfuls of candy over his shoulder to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. That’s Shauhin. Bold, over the top, and incredibly supportive.
I visited Shauhin a few weeks before the semester started as he was in the process of moving into his new home.
Shauhin: Bench is probably going to go right there so you can just— just leave it right here for now. Hey Talon, you wanna give me a hand real quick?
Talon: After helping with a furniture delivery, I sat down with Shauhin and started with the very core of all this. What is speech and debate?
Shauhin: Oh, man. Uh, speech and debate is a college intercollegiate activity that allows students to develop their critical thinking skills, public speaking skills, argumentation skills.
Talon: That’s the long academic version. The snappy version?
Shauhin: It’s a bunch of nerds who get dressed up in suits on weekends and talk about stuff.
Talon: Yeah, but it’s not just talking. It’s competing in tournaments with hundreds of different students all across the country. This competition is a large part of what speech and debate is. Many of the competitors are trying to win and be the best. Take Shauhin for example, he used to do theatre before speech and debate and competition is why he made the shift over.
Shauhin: At the end of the play you leave and you have the playbill and that’s it. When you’re done with a speech and debate tournament, you have a trophy that you get to go show people.
Talon: So you may be wondering, if speech and debate is a competition, a tournament, what are the rules? How does it work?
Shauhin: So the way that speech and debate works is you’ll generally join a team and then you’ll learn there’s actually three things—
Talon: Well, four.
Shauhin: —when it comes to speech and debate. There’s speeches.
Talon: Standing up and telling your audience about a subject.
Shauhin: Then you have debate.
Talon: Two competitors arguing either side of an issue in a structured format.
Shauhin: Then you have this whole other thing, which is oral interpretation of literature.
Talon: Essentially, competitive acting. But, I think Shauhin forgot something.
Shauhin: Oh my gosh, I really did.
Talon: The last category is one of my favorites, Limited Prep.
Shauhin: Limited prep is exactly what it sounds like, which is you get a limited amount of time to prepare your speech.
Talon: As opposed to other categories where you may have the same script throughout the entire tournament season.
DRUM MUSIC STARTS
Talon: So that’s the overview. Those are the categories, but within each of those categories there are numerous specific events. Such as…
Shauhin: Perssuasion, informative.
Talon: After dinner speaking, impromptu.
Shauhin: Extemp, IPDA.
Talon: Duo, program, interpreters theater, and there’s even more!
Shauhin: Then you have communication analysis which is just not something that I ever explain to people when I’m starting to explain speech and debate.
Talon: Ok, so we’ll stop there. Point is there is a lot of different events and it’s ok to not know what all of them are right now. That’s why you have this show! We’re gonna be delving into each and every one of these in future episodes to see exactly what makes them tick. So stick around, we’ll all get there.
Talon: That’s our setting, the world of speech and debate. After the break, we’ll jump into the legacy of Orange Coast College team and start to discover why speech and debate is so important to so many people.
Shauhin: I’m leaving my job early at the office so that I can go coach, for free, because I like that stuff more.
Talon: That’s coming up next on Soapboxers.
Talon: Anytime you have a competitive activity, you’re gonna have a couple archetypes. The team-to-beat, the wild cards, the rookies, the underdogs. To put it humbly, Orange Coast College is not an underdog, especially in recent years.
Shauhin: I joined the team in 2005. I competed from 2005-2007 on the speech and debate team and in 2007 we won a national championship. Then in 2009 the team won another national championship.
Talon: Then OCC hit a bit of a dry patch from 2010-2014. But then…
Shauhin: The next four seasons in a row we won both state and nationals.
Talon: So, just to recap, OCC won both state and national championships in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. A four year consecutive streak and, as far as what’s documented, a record for Phi-Rho-Pi, the organization that runs the tournaments.
One of the reasons this four year record is so impressive, and why we likely won’t see it broken any time soon, is because we’re talking about community colleges here.
Shauhin: So winning Nationals two years in a row is difficult because you are constantly fighting turnover. It’s not as if you have the same students for 3-4 years in a row. To win the national tournament requires lots of things to go right for a very long period of time. And in any number of those years, if one coin flips another way, we would’ve lost and another team would’ve won.
Talon: And that’s exactly what happened at the 2019 national championships. That’s the one I competed in. We worked hard, we tried our best, but ultimately we came in fourth place. The streak was over. But that’s ok with Shauhin. For him, competing is just a means to an end.
Shauhin: The best way to learn things, from in estimation, is to compete. To go and get feedback. To go and learn by doing and putting your stuff up against others and seeing how good you really are at something. If that is part of the learning process then winning is part of the winning process. And it’s a wonderful carrot to dangle in front of students, right? Let’s go win! It’s a wonderful motivator especially for certain students, by the way. Certain students are hyper competitive. For me in particular, when I was a student, I wanted to win stuff and winning stuff was the point. Right? That like— I didn’t care that it didn’t— I mean at the end of the day I don’t even have my medals any more, but I just wanted to go compete and win stuff.
You learn a lot when you try and hone a skill set like speech and debate. Not only do you learn how to do speech and debate but you also learn the value of hard work. Of spending hours and hour and hours and hours perfecting little tiny details and the thing that you learn is one, you’re capable of learning something like that. You’re capable of taking yourself to heights you never thought possible just through hard work. And then two, you learn the ability that is getting better at something. You learn how to get better at something, especially in speech, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Teaching students how to get better at things is something I think speech and debate does.
Talon: I asked Shauhin what his expectations were for the year, this being his first year as the Director of Forensics, and he leaned over and rested his head on his glass of water.
Shauhin: That’s a lot of pressure, bro.
Talon: And I don’t think he’s talking about the pressure of records or winning. He’s talking about this. The growth, the experience, the learning. Meeting friends on a team. He want’s to make sure that he can provide that for his students.
Shauhin: I love this team quite a bit. I really love Orange Coast College. It changed who I was as a person. Being on the speech and debate team changed who I was as a person. It made me a much better person. It put me on a path towards success. It changed the way I thought about the world. It introduced me to my very best friends.
And so what do I want? I want to create that for other students. I want to create a community where students can feel at home, they can learn, they can experiment, they can grow, and they can find their voice. That’s what I want for this year. I want my team to… become better citizens is probably the best way to think about it. And one of the ways we teach that is we go win, we go win stuff. We go train our butts off and try and win tournaments and all while understanding the context that trophies have. That they don’t mean everything. They’re not the whole point. But they are a means by which you can learn a wonderful skill set.
Talon: I still have my trophies, but they're in some box. I don’t exactly know where. What I do know is the way I grew during my time on the team and the connections I made. I know that the teammate with the really killer poetry piece released his first chapbook. I know that the team sweethearts moved in together. I know that one of my event partners is pursuing their masters in communication, looking to coach her own team one day. And me? I’m coming right back to where it all started to give you a little taste of what it means to compete in speech and debate. This is Soapboxers.
Next time on Soapboxers: We visit the OCC team as they have their first meeting of the year.
Talon: They have a new building, a new director, and a new team.
Shauhin: We’re recreating Orange Coast College forensics.
Talon: And for most of the team this is their first in-person college class. Ever.
Shauhin: Like I just talked to two students outside and they were like “Yeah, this is my first in-person college class. I’ve been at OCC for a year, I’ve never been on the campus.”
Talon: That’s next time on Soapboxers.
Shauhin: But now you can clap, cuz that’d be fun.
CREDIT MUSIC STARTS
Talon: Soapboxers is produced by myself, Talon Stradley, and mixed by Chris Moore. Our Executive Producer is Shauhin Davari. Our theme music was created by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our podcast art was designed by the delightful, Rhiannon White. Other music in the episode was provided by MusicVine.com. Special thanks to our sponsors, Hired Judge and the Professional Speech and Debate Association. An extra special thanks to Clark Moore, John Farkas, Fuzzy, Ben Steidl, Aaron McGuire, Ali Beheshti, John Lewellen, and of course, my mom, for their support on Kickstarter. If you want to join these saints in the fiscal support of the show, you can visit us on Patreon where we have ad-free episodes, buttons, and shout-outs.
If you want to stay up to date on the show you can follow us on Instagram at SoapboxersPod. We’re also on Twitter and TikTok.
Soapboxers is a production of Newtons Dark Room, a podcast studio set to explore imagination through antiquated audio dramas and non-fiction expeditions. For more information visit Newtonsdarkroom.com. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.
CREDIT MUSIC ENDS
Shauhin: What was the— Do you remember the bet? I don’t remember the bet.
Talon: Oh, I remember the bet.
Shauhin: What was the bet? Talon: So, I’m pretty sure the bet was that if they won—
Shauhin: Oh gosh…
Talon: That you would shave—
Shauhin: Mhm, My beard.
Talon: And your eyebrows I’m pretty sure.
Shauhin: No, no.
Talon: You’re head was definitely shaved.
Shauhin: Shaved head, yes. And Sean Connor did the same thing and it was if his theater gets a gold medal they shave his head.