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  • Talon Stradley

S1E2 - The Squad Room

Zoom: This meeting is being recorded.

Shauhin: Yeah this meeting is being recorded for the podcast that’s being done.


Talon: Hi, my name is Talon Stradley and this is Soapboxers, a fly-on-the-wall podcast about speech and debate. I used to competed on the Orange Coast College team and now I’m back after 2 years to document the speech and debate experience and bring it to you. Today, we sit in on the first meetings of the OCC speech and debate team as they start to realize just what this year has in store. This is Soapboxers.


Talon: Today, I want to tell you a story in three parts and this story is about… rooms. For the last year, all of the rooms at Orange Coast College have gone unused, a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these rooms have never even seen students…

Part 1: An Empty New Building.

Shauhin: I’m thinking that’s mine…

Talon: The coaches of the speech and debate team are gathered in a brand new building for the Literature and Language department, a move from their long term home in the department’s old building.

Shauhin: This is our new room. And we also, for those who haven’t seen it, have a massive mirror along the walls.

Talon: There are a lot of mirrors by the way, huge mirrors. The kind you might imagine in a dance studio and they run along both sides of the room so you get that trippy infinite universes effect. There is a nice rectangle of fancy new chairs in the center of a large main seating area. A long table runs along one of the walls and there are several offices branching off from the main room. And… that’s it. A far cry from the homely, worn in, cramped space of the old squad room that I remember.

Shauhin: Our old Squad Room was tiny but it had all kinds of stuff on the wall, you could feel when you walked in there that there was history, and it was a little grimy and a little dirty. There’s something nice about that.

Talon: I walked through that old building on the way to the new one, and everything is in boxes. Put away, tidied up, in a dark room. For now, the two building resemble one another: An empty space patiently waiting for their next big step. For the new building, that next step starts today at the first coaches meeting. Some coaches are there in person, some are there via zoom call…

Shauhin: We’re also…


Shauhin: Oops.

Jimmy: It’s me.

Shauhin: I muted you, or I tried to mute you.

Talon: We’ll have a chance to meet the coaches later, but for now Shauhin sets the stage for the year.

Shauhin: I am very, very pleased to be the Director of Forensics for the team this year. That means that none of us know what the fuck we’re doing!

Talon: Well, that’s not entirely fair. Shauhin has been involved in speech and debate for almost 20 years and all of the coaches have plenty of experience competing, coaching, and even running tournaments. These people know how to run a successful team. But, well… let’s just say Shauhin is someone who likes to push the boundaries of what is generally considered “possible”.

Shauhin: I am probably less risk averse than most Directors of Forensics. I am happy to take calculated smart risks. Let’s try doing a different tournament. Let’s try doing this a different way entirely. There’s no reason we need three main points in persuasion. We just don’t need all of the things that are typical to speech and debate.

Talon: Speech and Debate is an activity that is largely based around traditions and expectations. Judges expect to see things a certain way but…

Shauhin: We don’t need to do those things. There’s no rulebook that says we have to do those things. One of the benefits of having someone else be the Director of Forensics and not me is they get to say “Oh, ok cool. Pitch me all of these insane ideas” and they’ll say no to the stuff that is truly insane but they’ll still take some of the ideas and implement them. Right? It’s a wonderful system to have, especially when you’re a crazy person like me and you want to experiment with all kinds of things. You need someone to be like “No, no. Shut up. Sit down. We’re not doing it that way.” I don’t have that this year. I don’t have someone saying “No. no. Shut up. Sit down.” That’s me. I have to do that to myself now.

Talon: It’s himself and the other coaches who will keep him in check.

Shauhin: I am very lucky that I have a bunch of co-coaches.

Talon: And this group of coaches? There’s something really cool about them.

Shauhin: Oh, oh oh! That’s what I was gonna say. I think this is the first time in Orange Coast College history that every single member of the coaching staff went to Orange Coast College. Our coaching staff, out entire coaching staff, comes from the last 10 years of Orange Coast College speech and debate program. Which is incredible! The national championships are cool, don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of what we did. I’m very proud of the team. I am way more proud of Orange Coast College for their legacy of coaches that come back to the activity.

Talon: It’s not just the coaches coming back to OCC either. Orange Coast College speech and debate Alumni are scattered across the whole community, leading teams at other schools, coaching, and pushing forensics forward.

Back at the coaches meeting, Shauhin sets the expectations for the year so that, hopefully, the students on this team will get as much value from the program as those countless amount of Alumni. Shauhin: I want to make expectations very clear from the very beginning. I expect that we create an incredible community. That’s the expectation. Everything else comes from that beginning thing. If we can create an incredible community, then we’ll win. Everything else will come. The students loving the activity, the life changing parts of forensics. All of that comes after we have created an incredible community.

Talon: But that’s not an easy task to accomplish, especially in the Fall of 2021.

Shauhin: We have some pretty big problems with creating that community. Number 1, we’re going to have to deal with the whole online space—

Zoom: Recording in process.

Shauhin: We’re gonna have to deal with the whole online space continually throughout the semester.

Talon: Yeah, as much as we all wish it wasn’t, Covid-19 is still a major concern.

Shauhin: Nah man, Covid ruined everything, man! It ruined everything. We had a good thing going and now everything is different.

Talon: This is another reason this year feels like a large reset. In the Spring of 2020, the National Championships were canceled due to Covid. In Spring of 2021, they were held virtually online. Now, in the Fall of 2021, teams are finally able to meet in the same room and hopefully attend in-person tournaments, but they’re still hovering between online and the physical. All of that could change at any moment.

Shauhin: Essentially the entire first semester, except for maybe two tournaments, is online.

Talon: While it is always exciting to meet in the same room, especially when that’s what you're used to. There is also something to be said for the democratization that online tournaments bring to Speech and Debate. For example, many people don’t live near a school with a strong speech and debate program. Transportation costs can be prohibitive. Online tournaments help level the playing field and allow people from all across the world to compete. Either way, Shauhin was right: everything’s different and the team is going to have to navigate this new landscape.

Shauhin: It’s one of those things where, it’s always in the back of your mind you’re always thinking about it.

Talon: As Shauhin discusses these changes and the meeting moves on to logistics, the coaches are interrupted by something that can only happen in-person.

Shauhin: Ok, so we have five offices and we have seven coaches. The split that I was thinking is I’m D.O.F., I’m taking that office— What’s up homie?

Sean (student): Hi, I don’t mean to interrupt or anything.

Shauhin: It’s all good.

Sean (student): Where are the stairs in this building?

Shauhin: Good luck, bro.

Sean (student): Are they far?

Shauhin: This is my first day.

Jimmy: They're usually on the ends.

Hannah: You should join speech and debate!

Shauhin: Yeah, you should come back. Hey!

Hannah: What the hell are we doing?

Shauhin: Child! Come back here! What’s your name?

Sean (student): Sean.

Shauhin: What are you doing tomorrow at 2:20?

Sean (student): I might be in class, I’m not sure.

Shauhin: You should drop that class, you should join the speech and debate team. This will be like a happy accident. Something that changed your life for the better.

Jimmy: And it’s a class and a team.

Shauhin: And you actually get—

Sean (student): I’m kind of actually a debate guy.

Jimmy: Buh-ro he said he debates!

Hannah: Perfect.

Sean (student): Like, I gotta little spice to me.

Shauhin: Word.

Hannah: Alright!

Shauhin and Hannah: I got a little spice to me!

Christian: That’s all we need.

Jimmy: Welcome to the team!

Christian: Hired!

Shauhin: You have—

Sean (student): Is there?

Shauhin: —Happened upon the happiest accident, my friend.

Sean (student): How do I? What do I do?

Shauhin: You just show up tomorrow at MBCC 220 at 2:20.

Talon: After the break, we show up to MBCC 220 to see just what this speech and debate thing is all about. And who knows? We may just run into that student again.

Sean (student): And I ran into five to six of the teachers.

Talon: That’s coming up on Soapboxers.

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Talon: Welcome back to our Room Saga.

Part Two: An Interim Room for First Meetings

Talon: This is a different room than the one we met earlier. This is a room I had never been in before. It’s in the Math Business and Computing Center, or MBCC. The MBCC building and the new building are basically design twins The two are even connected by a bridge. The MBCC building is no stranger to communication classes. In fact, my first ever class with Shauhin Davari was somewhere on the floor above us. For now, MBCC 220 serves as the official room for the speech and debate team’s weekly meetings. Speaking of which, it’s time for the first meeting of the year! While the coaches prepare, the students wait outside in the hallway chatting up a storm.

Shauhin: And this is perfect because they can actually talk to each other out there.

Talon: After a few minutes, it was time to meet the new team.

Talon: Shaw, you heading outside?

Shauhin: Huh?

Talon: You heading outside to talk to them?

Shauhin: Yeah, just to bring them in.

Talon: I’m joining you.

Shauhin: Ok.


Shauhin: Hey friends! How’re we doing? Students: Good!

Shauhin: Hey, I’m really excited to bring you all here and start the year.

Talon: The students came filing in, buzzing with excitement. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen people gathered together like this due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Once everyone found their seats, they patiently waited for the professor to start their first in-person class since the pandemic started.

Shauhin: My name is Shauhin Davari. I’m the Director of Forensics for the Orange Coast College speech team. Which is awesome because not that long ago, I was on the Orange Coast College speech team. This is the very first shirt we that we made my very first year when I was on the team. I thought it would be awesome to wear it today because it means a lot to me, this team means a lot to me. This is a very important year for me and your entire coaching staff.

Talon: Some of the students here know what speech and debate is and others don’t have the slightest clue.

Student: And then I got informed in the hallway of what it is and I still—

Shauhin: Lovely.

Student: And I still walked in the door!

Shauhin: Ok, Lovely! Wonderful!

Student: So there’s that.


Talon: So Shauhin gets everyone on the same page.

Shauhin: A little break down of what forensics is. Forensics is Speech and Debate. Right? We do lots of different events. It’s something like… track and field? Where some people will throw javelins, some people will run around a track. And what are we trying to do here?

Student: Win.

Shauhin: Yeah, sure. Sure. That’s certainly part of it. What’s the skill set that you’re really learning when you’re learning how to speak in public.

Student 1: How to communicate?

Shauhin: How to communicate, yeah. What else?

Student 2: Confidence?

Shauhin: Confidence for sure. What else?

Student 3: Persuasive.

Shauhin: Yeah, how to be persuasive. So that all is enwrapped in one concept which is finding your voice. That’s the whole goal. That’s why we’re here! That’s what we love to do more than anything else on planet earth. We love to help people find their voice.

Talon: The air is electric. You can look around and see a room full of curious students, hungry for this life changing activity that is being presented to them. But, this isn’t just a life changing activity. It’s also a college class and that means there’s a syllabus!

Shauhin: Um, ok! Some information about the class. Number 1, this class is a positive attendance course…

Talon: The way that speech and debate is organized at Orange Coast College is a little bit odd. It is both a class, that a student can take for units, and a club, that anyone can join. The class part of it is there to give students a bit of compensation for spending so much time on the team. If you’re spending four hours a week sitting in a classroom with professors learning and practicing communication, it makes sense that you should get some college credits.

So by this point the meeting has gone on for a bit. The students have heard all about speech and debate, the orange coast college legacy, the different events, a lot of the stuff we went over last episode, as well as how the class works, units, canvas, expectations.

Hannah: How’re we doing? Are we doing ok? I know this is a lot of information.

Talon: That’s Hannah, one of the head coaches.

Shauhin: It’s a lot of dry information at once.

Hannah: It might sound a little intense right now and I want you to keep in mind that I promise it’s not. It’s really, really fun. It’s so fun that…

Shauhin: We came back and made it our lives.

Hannah: Yeah, we made it our lives.

Talon: Hannah also gives them some extra motivation by teasing the state, national, and even international championships.

Hannah: So that is really cool, it’s really fun. It’s really nice to get away. It’s a hotel tournament. You get to be with each other. You get to really bond, get close together, travel, see some cool things. These are things that you might want to make goals. So we talked about setting goals. Maybe a goal is going to internationals, maybe a goal is going to nationals, maybe a goal is going to state.

Talon: After the pep talk, it’s time to introduce this newly minted team to their squad room.

Hannah: Yeah, we should probably head over there in a little bit. You get to see and it kind of just becomes a fun little place because campus doesn’t have a lot places to hang out and it’s just nice to have a space that you can go to and hang out with your friends, see each other, and work on things.

Part 3: Filling A Room With Life

Talon: The whole team moves from MBCC 220 to the Squad Room. That’s the one in the new building we saw at the beginning of the episode. We can finally call it the Squad Room because there’s finally a squad! The team fills in every chair, ever corner, leaning against the walls, taking in the large mirrors.

Shauhin: We are very very lucky, very stoked, to have this space. This is a space for you all to use. I want this space to be a space where you all get to hang out with each other. You get to be around each other, it’s a place where you can hang between classes. The only problem is there’s no A.C. in here right now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.

David: Oh, so that’s why it’s like…

Shauhin: Super hot in here? I mean also bro, you’re wearing a cashmere ass sweater, man! Look at you bro!


Talon: And just like that, this blank, empty room has life. People laughing, people talking. Dreaming about what they’ll be able to accomplish here and the memories they’ll make. This is that room, that space. This is their Squad Room.

Shauhin: Did you all meet each other at all? On your way out, say hi to each other, exchange a phone number or two.

Talon: And they did! The students hung out in that room for quite a bit afterwards. Chatting, saying hi, and becoming a team. While they were milling about, I talked to some of them about their expectations and goals for the year.

Natalie: Hi, I’m Natalie. I was on mock trial in High School and so I wanted to pursue something in college that was similar because I really enjoyed that.

Student: I also did mock trial in High School and then my Mock Trial coach recommended I try out speech and debate, so here I am trying speech and debate.

Talon: Ok, same school?

Natalie and Student: No.

Student: But we actually played each other in a match so we’ve met before.

David: How do you do, my name is David. This is my first year at OCC. This was legit one of the only courses that was communication related that was open. I didn’t know it was a speech and debate class or anything like that.

Daylyn: I’m Daylyn. I don’t know what you really want to know. This is my second year on the team. Used to live in San Diego. I just moved like a month ago. I was driving an hour for this team. That show’s you how much I love this team.

Talon: And of course, Sean, the student who walked in on the coaches meeting.

Sean (student): I’m Sean, it’s my first year at OCC.

Talon: And how did you find out about the speech and debate team?

Sean (student): I really accidentally ran into this really weird classroom. I was trying to find the stairs for this completely building and I ran into five to six of the teachers. They were telling me about the class. I was immediately interested.

Talon: As the last students filed out, the coaches were right where we found them at the start of the episode: Sitting alone in this new building, which now felt a little bit warmer. And not just because the air conditioning is out. With everything slowing down, I was finally able to sit down with some of the other coaches to get their thoughts on the year. This is Alissa, one of the rookie coaches, beaming about the new students.

Alissa: They were really excited, they were really receptive, and I feel like it’s going to be a good year. They were all chatting with each other and were really all about making everyone feel together and comfortable and together so I think it’s looking good.

Talon: Jimmy, one of the more veteran coaches, could feel just how unique this year is.

Jimmy: I think it went great overall! I feel like there was a weird layer, like a weird mood about it, and I think it had to do a lot with the fact, that like, this is like the first time we’ve done this, and it’s also Shaw’s first time. I feel like it was a good toneseting first day, I really do. Cuz it felt serious and then it morphed into this thing where we’re all just hanging out and figuring it out together. And so hopefully we’ll see— hopefully the students come back.

Talon: This is Hannah, who’s in charge of debate. You heard her a little bit during the meeting.

Hannah: I feel good, I feel like today actually went really well. I was nervous at first, just being back in person again, but I think particularly the mitigation to our squad room I think just warmed everything up and I think it showed them that we really are a family and we have this home base that we get to go to and talk and hangout. So, I think overall I feel good. I feel good about everything.

Talon: And this is her fiancé Christian who joined the coaching staff last year. They met when they were competitors on the team.

Christian: Yeah, I feel great! I think there were a lot of new faces today and one of my biggest worries was that we wouldn’t be able to foster that sense of community. Just being in here and seeing all these kids just talking and laughing. Just so much more interaction than I would’ve thought for how many new people are coming in so, its been nice to see all that happen.

Tess: Being able to see students talk to each other. Everybody seemed excited. It was just such a nice energy of people being eager!

Talon: The last two coaches were Shauhin Davari and Sean Connor, who competed on the team together back in the day and are partners in crime, through and through. This is Sean.

Sean: I think it went well! || I think our biggest concern was that it wasn’t going to be as engaging or as exciting or as fun as it could’ve been. Obviously since its— we’re masked, we’re having to distance, but I think the students are—

Shauhin: It’s the panini, the whole nine yards.

Sean: I think that the students are motivated. I think students are excited about it. || I think that helps us to get more motivated as well.

Shauhin: And that’s what day one’s about. Day one’s really just about getting students stoked and everything else will happen. And getting them to like each other. Dude, they were sitting here and talking to each other for like 10 minutes after class.

Sean: They’re still talking to each other.

Shauhin: I had to take pictures! I was like ‘Oh my god! It’s like we’re back! We’re back!’ It’s gonna be a good year.

Sean: And I think that it’s interesting to see so many students that literally had no idea what they were signing up for. Like the dude that was like ‘I just walked in cuz I don’t know, this is a class.’

Shauhin: Yeah, during our meeting. The kid who walked in during our coaches meeting showed up. Let’s go!

Talon: While the new students are definitely exciting, Sean and Shauhin are also just excited to be back teaching in person.

Sean: It’s a very good energy. I couldn’t be more happy to be back at least one day.

Shauhin: Yeah, one class out of my four is in person and it felt the best by far. || One of the things that I think is great is… I mean not great. This is horrible. But that I think will work to the team’s advantage is that I think this is a lot of students only in person class. And I think it’s a lot of their first in person class.

Sean: Oh, yeah, yeah.

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. || It’s the first time I’ve heard student laughter in months— in years! Cuz every time they're laughing, they're muted, and they just unmute themselves to make a comment.

Talon: After Sean left it was just me and Shauhin. I was packing up my recording gear and he was locking up the building.

Talon: It’s just a mess, it’s awesome. It’s like running down, like coming in here, I was like “Ok, throw my stuff against the thing. Pull this out, plug that in, he’s still got the lapel mic on, we’re good, setting up the thing. Alright, here we go.”

It’ll be a fun year. Looking forward to it.

Talon: When Shauhin let out his barbaric yop.

Shauhin (Yelling): Yes, Bro! Yes! Fucking yes dude, let’s go. So fucking happy.

Talon: After years of work, after all the uncertainty, after a global pandemic, Shauhin’s first year as Director of Forensics has begun. He’s got a good room, a good set of coaches, and best of all? He’s got an eager and excited team ready to take on speech and debate for all that it is.

Shauhin stepped into that room, the newly christened Squad Room, and if you listen closely, you can hear him yelling with excitement from inside.

This is Soapboxers.

Talon: Next time on Soapboxers: It’s our first deep dive into an event! And we’re starting with probably the least well known category. Oral Interpreation.

Shauhin: PPL THINK I DEBATER clip.

Talon: That’s next time on Soapboxers.


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 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 at where we have recurring and one time donation options. Check it out to get 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

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