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  • Talon Stradley

S1E7 - The First Tournament

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 take you to the first in-person tournament in over a year and a half to see how a tournament runs and what it takes to compete. This is Soapboxers


Talon: What you are hearing right now, all that hubbub? That’s the OCC Speech and Debate team’s first workshop of the year.


Talon: All of these students are gathered to work on their pieces in a group setting.

Kyle: So I’m currently finding information about my informative speech on safety systems and Galileo’s warning.

Daylyn: Um, currently I’m just pulling sources from some of my old debate cases to put in the discord.

Kendall: I’m just going through our articles that we have on our discord and just seeing if there is anything in there that I might need for the debate that I’m gonna be doing this weekend.

Talon: That’s right. The team has a tournament coming up this very weekend. And it’s not just any tournament, it is the first in-person tournament for the OCC team since the start of the pandemic in Spring of 2020. This is why this workshop was put together in the first place. For many of the students, this is the last chance to polish a piece with the coaches before taking it to a competition. We’ll come back to this workshop, but first I want to take us to the team meeting a few days prior.


Talon: The team has spent the last four weeks learning what speech and debate is. They joined the team, saw some example speeches, and had deep dives into every major event type. Many of them have had coaching sessions already. Platform speeches are being written, interp scripts are being memorized. The team has cultivated a basic understanding of what forensics is and how these events are performed. While many are prepared to stand up and perform their speech, there is still more they need to learn about how to be at a tournament.

Shauhin: Just to cover a few things about the tournament before we go.

Talon: A big part of what Shauhin wants to talk about is sportsmanship.

Shauhin: Behavior at the tournament for the ten people that are gonna go, is really important because now you’re going to be in person and you’re going to be representing Orange Coast College.

Talon: Like any kind of competition, whether it’s an NFL football game or Go Fish with your friends, you always want to be respectful to everyone involved.

Shauhin: At these tournaments, you want to treat every single person with respect. You want to do that fucking anyway but especially when it comes to the tournament, especially when it comes to Orange Coast College.

Talon: Part of the way you can show that respect is by being a good and engaged audience member.

Shauhin: When it comes to your audience interaction, at Orange Coast College, we are the best audience members of all time. When someone sees the posting and they see someone from Orange Coast College, they should be thrilled because they know they’re going to have a great audience member and terrified because they also kind of know that they’re gonna get their ass kicked.

Talon: Ok, so Shauhin is gassing up the students a bit. He wants a confident, pumped up, and charged team, just like any Coach, but he and the other coaches take this sportsmanship stuff very seriously.

Shauhin: Five years ago we went to the state tournament and the number one speaker in the state was on our team. Ok? He won two events at the state tournament, won two of them, but he was a dickhead and we didn’t take him to nationals. The number one speaker in the state and we were like “We’re good! Later. Bye! You’re rude to your teammates, you’re rude to your coaches. We don’t need you here.” And we fucking won nationals anyway.

Talon: Shauhin and the other coaches are one hundred percent willing to roll those dice. They want to win, sure, but not if they are winning with a bunch of jerks. Sportsmanship, team bonding, personal growth, that’s why they’re here in the first place, that is what speech and debate is about. You can understand now why they would dedicate an entire team meeting to driving that point home. They also want to make sure that the students are being respectful to themselves and not sabotaging their own experience by undermining all the handwork they’ve put into this.

Shauhin: And I can’t tell you how many times we coaches have gone to the bathroom, gone to get food, and overheard someone talking about their event. Right? And they’re like “Oh, my prose just isn’t ready for this weekend!” And I’m a judge and I see them in the next round. And so now, how am I watching their prose?


Shauhin: Yeah, I’ve already made some sort of pre-judgement about their prose that they’re not ready. If I never would’ve heard that, maybe I would’ve known. Maybe I would’t have. Maybe they would’ve fooled me. But now that I’m watching them with the preconceived notion that they’re not prepared, I’m going to catch a lot more things about them not being prepared.

Talon: Speaking of preparedness, that brings us back to the workshop where students are working tirelessly to practice their speeches before the weekend. I stopped by to see how things were going.

Nina: My name is Nina.

Kendall: Um, I’m Kendall. What do you want to know about me? What else do you want?


Talon: I was curious to see what people expected the tournament to be like, especially after a month of learning about speech and debate.

Kendall: Um, for the tournament I don’t really know what’s gonna happen cuz I’ve only heard briefly. I haven’t really talked to anyone that’s been to a tournament before, but it seems cool. I’m interested to get a bunch of practice in cuz they said I’ll be debating possibly six rounds or more, which is a lot of practice and that’s what I need so that I can get more confident with it I suppose.

Nina: So from what I’ve heard, we’re gonna get there, I’m going to find a hoard of people looking at paper that’s like a posting. I have to find my name. Then I go to said room — after we do our warm ups or whatever that we do — I go to my room, what I’m supposed to do. I write my name on the thing and then I, what I would imagine what would happen is when it starts, the judge just calls the people up in the order they’re supposed to go in. You watch everyone else’s, you do your piece and like, that’s that. And then you go to another round. You do the same thing until finals, I’m assuming? That’s what I feel like is gonna happen and then an awards show.

Talon: For someone who’s never been to a tournament, she has a scarily good idea of how it goes. I was also curious to see if competitors were nervous. Do they feel ready?

Kendall: Um, I do not but I am a very over-thinker kind of person so I never feel ready for anything. Cuz I’m the kind of person who’s super nervous so I was like “Well if I don’t do this one now and this is the first one where everybody’s gonna be new, everybody’s going to be nervous. They’re all gonna have those kinds of jitters and all the coaches are saying that’s the best time to do it is this tournament. So, that’s what kind of sold me on it I was like “Ok, cool. So I’m gonna be just like everybody else. That’s what I want to do.”

Nina: I wanted to do a tournament, and I knew I wanted to do one. But for this tournament—

Shauhin: We need to practice your event by the way.

Nina: I’ve been doing it with Alissa. If you want I can show you too.

Shauhin: Yeah, let’s do it.

Nina: Now?

Shauhin: Yeah.

Nina: Can I finish my interview?

Talon: Either way, we can finish up later.

Shauhin: Yeah, let’s do it.

Talon: Yeah, go for it.

Talon: Ok, so the interview got cut a little short. But that’s alright! These people have speeches to practice, articles to read, lines to memorize! After all, that tournament is right around the corner.

Christian: Seeing students perform their pieces. Seeing how nervous they are, how excited they are. How ready they are. All if its just — Yeah, it’s all coming back to me in the best of ways.

Talon: That’s coming up next on Soapboxers.

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Talon: Welcome back! It is the day of the tournament and people are raring to go! Most of the team is meeting at the Orange Coast College campus to take the school vans to the tournament. Me? I’m stuck in traffic.

Talon: I am currently on the 405. It is 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning, going south on the 405, is stopped dead.

Talon: I missed meeting everyone on campus so instead, I went straight to the tournament site to meet them there.

This tournament was hosted by Cal Baptist University in Riverside, California. About a 45 minute drive from OCC. Occasionally throughout the season, two year colleges and four year colleges compete at the same tournaments. This is one of those instances. We were there on a Saturday during a semester where a lot of people are still online. Regardless, there was a decent amount of people walking around the campus. It was pretty obvious who was there for the speech tournament though. They walk in packs of suits and determination!

The first step of arriving at a tournament is to find a place to set up shop. Contrary to popular belief, tournament rounds are not held in large, packed auditoriums and stages. They take place in regular ol’ class rooms with only the competitors, the judges, and maybe an audience member or two. Maybe. Because of this, a lot of class rooms are unlocked. At the start of the day, before the first round, the OCC team likes to set up camp in one of these rooms to get together and do warmups. First, an introduction from Shauhin.

Shauhin: Listen, the tournament starts in twenty seconds. I want you to know a couple things about the tournament before we get started. Who’s doing prose? Just the three of you? Three of you. Ok. So, uh, you’re the only people in prose, in Novice prose. So it’s just you guys competing against each other.

Talon: This is not normal procedure for a tournament but remember, these aren’t normal times. Typically, you will have TONS of competitors in these events. For example, in 2019, a tournament during this same time of year had over 40 IPDA competitors. This one has five, four of which are from OCC. It’s important to remember that we are still in a pandemic. A lot of schools are still online, we’re still wearing masks indoors. It’s understandable that not as many teams would go this tournament, for a variety of reasons. And… that’s ok. These first tournaments are rarely big title contentions to begin with. It’s always been treated more as an opportunity to get out, dust off your skills, get back in the saddle, and meet everyone again.

Shauhin: And that’s really what we’re using today for. So I want you to be very clear about what the expectations are of you today. I expect that you represent yourself well. That’s the number one thing that you have to worry about today. As far as things to worry about, I don’t give a shit about your pieces, don’t give a shit about how well you do, don’t give a shit about how well you do. None of that stuff matters. I just want you to represent yourself well.

Talon: After his talk, Shauhin dips out to go take care of some organization stuff leaving Christian to lead the warm ups.

Christian: Step one, we’re gonna just go through the consonants. So we’re gonna say ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba. Ca, ca, ca, all the way down to z if that makes sense? And then we’ll go into the next thing. Make sense? We’ll clap also, so everyone. And Talon, if you want to help too, that’d be great. Unless it’s too close to the mic.

Talon: I-I will do everything I can.

Christian: Alright, for sure. Alright.


Christian: That’ll be for that. It’s normally in order, but I love the vibe.

Nina: David that was amazing!

Christian: For sure!

Talon: This is one of those little moments that surprise me. I remember learning this warm up and it’s a bit tricky. Going through all the consonants of the alphabet in that manner is harder than it looks. I basically would follow along with with the veteran teammates until I got it. But here, there are no veteran teammates. This is everyone’s first tournament and the only people in the room who have ever done that warmup before is Christian and myself. But they’re going to be ok. These students are the Orange Coast College team.

Christian: This one is going to be “People wanna know, who are we?” And then we’re all gonna say “O-C-C!” Alright? People wanna know, who are we‽

Everyone: O-C-C!

Talon: With that, everyone takes a moment to review scripts or get some water, giving me a chance to talk to Christian.

Christian: Oh, it’s fun! Warmups were my favorite part when I was starting the speech day and it’s nice to officially do it again. In some ways it’s to warmup the body, in some ways its to warmup the voice. In most ways its to get your mind in the right headspace. You know? We’re coming here and sometimes it can feel like you’re in your head, you’re in your nerves. You’re thinking about that first round. It’s just a time to not think about what’s next, not think about what just came before. Not thinking about what your piece was just like. Just to come, shout, feel like you’re with your team, recognize that it’s not just you here, that you are coming here, that we’re all saying work, that we’re all coming and saying these consonants together if even if they’re not in the right order. And that’s a part of it. It’s a team bonding experience and it just has everyone get in the right headspace.

Talon: While this is certainly a return to form for Speech and Debate, there are some changes that have come around due to Covid.

Shauhin: So different, to get text messages with your rounds. They used to post paper. They used to post pieces of paper and you’d go and you would look at the piece of paper and there was like vibe and energy because people were nervous. And now you just get a text message and you look at your phone and you go to your room.

Talon: This is one of those changes that may lose a bit of magic but is far more logistically feasible. But, who knows? Maybe after Covid-19 we’ll go back to paper postings just for that energy and tradition. For now, this tournament is using text messages and when everyone’s phones start buzzing, you know it’s time for the first round! The debaters have their round first. They go off, strike, and come back with their resolutions for some group prep.

David’s resolution is Civics should be a mandatory class.

David: Already I’m thinking about — We go through social studies from the beginning. We go through government and Econ. That hits. But you don’t necessarily know that or know anything about that until you graduate because you never genuinely experience it.

Christian: The first— Well, let’s first start with some definitions. So, let’s first see if we can get a dictionary definition of a civics class?

Talon: After prep, everyone heads off to their first round.

Christian: But yeah, you got it, take your time. Take a deep breath before you go up.

David: And have fun?

Christian: Yeah, 100%. Have fun, enjoy yourself.

David: Thank you, man.

Nina: Do you have your flow paper, David? Yeah?

David: Yes.

Talon: And when they come back…

Nina: How was it?

David: It was so much fun! I’m not gonna lie to you. || It was so — Everything they said was true, it was so true. They’re gonna be nervous. They’re gonna be shaking. You’re going to be a lot more prepared than you might seem. It’s gonna be so much fun, don’t let the nerves take over you. Try to remember certain things. I was very, very, very, very, very excited.

Talon: Because there are an odd number of debaters, one person get’s a bye each round. That just means they don’t compete against anyone and it gets counted as a win. The first round bye went to Kendall, the over thinker who was a little nervous earlier in the episode. I checked in with her after the first round to see if she was still nervous about her first debate.

Kendall: Oh, I’m excited! Yeah. I wish I got to compete the first round though. I was like, dang! Just after seeing all the prep in here, cuz I was in here helping the other competitors prep, I was like oh, I could’ve killed it. If I was able to use all this stuff I found I would’ve killed it.

Talon: Safe to say she is much more confident. Debaters get their 2nd round assignments and they take off to start debating. One thing of note is that it’s against the rules to record competitive rounds. Plus, I don’t want to. I don’t want to add anything to the plate of the competitors. This is their time to perform and enjoy. After the round, however, I can catch up with the team and get the play by play. After round two, I talked to Kendall again to see how her first debate went.

Kendall: It was ok, it was just stressful because it wasn’t something I was super familiar with. I wish I did a different topic but like, it is what it is, you know?

Talon: What was your topic?

Kendall: Um, it was— I can read it actually. The US Federal Government should set a new minimum wage at not less than fifteen dollars per hour. And I don’t know a lot about Econ or minimum wage or any of that so that was a very quick thirty minute prep for me.

Talon: So what did you do then? How did you go about—

Kendall: Um, I asked my coach, first of all. Immediately my brain went to well, I know we need to up it because the housing is really expensive, especially out here in California. I know that my dad mentions it all the time as a joke where he’s like “why pay $800,000 for a house out here. I could get a mansion out in Texas.” And I was like, ok that’s a good point. So that’s what I dove into first was being able to match it. One of the interesting statistics I came across was that we actually should be at fifteen dollars an hour with how much inflation has gone up in the past three years. So, that’s kind of what I dug into.

Talon: Despite the unfamiliar resolution, Kendall still had a good time and she saw a lot of growth as a public speaker.

Kendall: It wasn’t as scary as I thought. I definitely knew I was going to have a problem with speaking. I tend to catch on words a lot or I have a blank where I can’t think of a word so I’ll be up there kind of spinning out almost. And that did happen a couple times, but I made sure to not flip out because usually I’m like “Oh my God! I’m just standing up here, like these people think I’m stupid or they don’t know what I’m doing.” And so I didn’t do that this time around, so that was super exciting.

Talon: While the debaters have been going in and out of rounds , our individual events competitors, have been waiting. While IPDA is one on one, in individual events, or IE, the competitors compete in rounds of six, with each competitor going up and delivering their speech one after the other. Then, the judge ranks them from one to six, one being the best. What this means is that if you only have three interpers, those three would just be seeing each other’s speeches over and over and over again. It also has a weird impact on rankings. You can’t really have an elimination final round if it’s just the same three people again. So instead of doing the full amount of rounds, with a final round, they might cut it down to two or three. That means that the interpers have some time to kill. That brings us to this other side of debate tournaments, the chill side. The side where you get to chat, hang out, meet people from other schools, and just enjoy the presence of your team mates. Today, the IE competitors decided to go for a walk where they stumble on Shauhin working at picnic table outside.

Shauhin: Uh, I didn’t have a round. Just doing some work.

Talon: Sometimes the conversations were just light and fun.

Shauhin: And then all of a sudden I notice this guy is looking in my car and I make eye contact with him like “What’s going on?” And he’s like “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just having a conversation with your dog.” And I turn to look at my dog and my dog is looking at him like—


Talon: Other times, the conversations turned to more serious topics, like their ethnicities and families.

Natalie: I’m like this is getting crazy. There was four of us in the one room. I was like, “I’ve never met this many Armenians in one place.” She goes, “What do you mean?” I’m like “It’s very rare for me to come across an Armenian. Is that weird?”

Shauhin: And you’re Egyptian-Lebanese?

Derrick: Yeah, yeah.

Shauhin: So there’s four Lebanese people in the same round?

Natalie: Yeah!

Talon: It turns out, most of the OCC students that went to this tournament are second generation Americans, with their parents immigrating from another country. It was really cool to see everyone bonding over this and the diversity that’s present on the team.

Shauhin: How many of y’all — Did any of you play translator for your parents growing up?

Emma: A little bit.

Shauhin: A little bit?

Emma: Then they got better.

Shauhin: Yeah, of course.

Talon: Speech and debate always moves fast. You are always practicing, always coaching, always preparing. It doesn’t help that most OCC classes are still online, meaning there is no dead time in between classes on campus to chat in the squad room. This right here, waiting for a round to start, is one of the first times the team has had an opportunity to just chill, not worry about anything, and exist in the same space together.

Soon enough, it was time for the first IE round and the team encountered an unexpected obstacle. Finding your way through an unfamiliar college campus.

Nina: Ok, where’s 107 on the map? Where’s 107 on the map?

Emma: We need to go to—

Nina: Where’s 107? We’re here.

Emma: Yeah, but this is another building.

Nina: We’re in another building.

Talon: This kind of thing happens all the time. I would say it is a core part of the tournament experience. Eventually they right room.

Student: Thank you! Good luck!

Talon: Yeah, break a leg!

Talon: After the round, the prose competitors meet back up with Shauhin at the picnic table.

Shauhin: Ok, cool. Did you guys have fun?

Students: Yeah.

Nina: It was a lot of fun.

Natalie: I needed that first, you know?

Shauhin: Yeah, get it out.

Natalie: Beautifully messy, that’s what I said.

Shauhin: Of course! Absolutely. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Nina: She pulled it off. She did good.

Derrick: Yeah, it was so good.

Nina: She thinks she didn’t, she did good.

Talon: While the team talked some more, I took this as an opportunity to speak to some of the competitors from other schools.

Ryza: Hi, I’m Ryza. I’m a senior at Cal Baptist.

Talon: Ryza was on the Cal Baptist team last year, but this is her first in-person tournament.

Ryza: Last year, everything was online. So I have social anxiety, so performing online was a lot different than performing in-person. Online I can hide behind my keyboard. If I need to, I don’t need to see people’s faces cuz I can just blow up a different thing on the screen, but this time the atmosphere is so different. There’s actually people in front of me. It’s a little intimidating but I’d say a lot more fun.

Talon: Some people like Jada have competed in-person before but it’s been a while.

Jada: Yeah, I forgot how stressful competition days were. And so for me, it was pretty stressful this morning and I didn’t realize that competition adrenaline is so serious. This morning was kind of crazy, but it’s been pretty fun.

Talon: There are even students from other countries who have found a community in forensics programs, like Roman.

Roman: And at the same time, at the same time, I’m an international student which means that sometimes it can be so hard to express your feelings, you know? But in my opinion, the more you do it, the better for you.

Talon: As the day goes on there’s a little bit more of the same. Waiting for rounds, hanging out, then rushing off to go compete before another period of downtime and team bonding. After all the rounds were over it was time for the last big event of the day: The Awards Ceremony.


Talon: Once again, this tournament was a little bit different. While award ceremonies are typically held in an auditorium, this one was just done outside. This was due to social distancing. The tournament organizers say a few words, thank some people, and then start handing out awards. Tournaments will give out awards to the top competitors from each event and then they’ll take the results of all the competitors from each school, add them up, and hand out Team Sweepstakes awards based on the overall school performance. When we talk about a school winning a tournament, this is what we mean. And, well, OCC won this tournament.

Announcer: Orange Coast College


Announcer: That’s it, have a wonderful evening.

Talon: Tournament days are long days. We met at 6:30 in the morning to leave for this tournament. We spent all day running around, competing, and figuring stuff out and all the teams still have a decent drive back home. Because of this, tournaments tend to move pretty quick through awards. As soon as they announce the team sweepstakes, they send everyone on their way. The OCC team gathers around the school vans before they leave for a final send off from Shauhin.

Shauhin: Hey, first tournament’s in the books. Right? Yeah. Congratulations! Yes, exactly, now we can woo!


Shauhin: Kendall hit her first, like today, twenty minutes ago, I was like “how’d it go Kendall?” And she’s like “Man, after that first round, everything was fine.” Those first round jitters out of the way and you’re like “Oh! It’s not that big of a motherfucking deal like he was saying.” All of a sudden it’s like “Oh, you weren’t lying.” It’s not that big a deal. It’s not this crazy thing. It’s just practice, prepare, go, perform, have a good time, meet some cool people. That’s a pretty cool Saturday. Also we’re out way earlier than expected, which is fantastic. Any thoughts from y’all? Did you enjoy yourselves? Did you all have fun?

Students: Yeah.

Nina: It was a lot of fun.

Shauhin: Yeah, super fun, right? || I asked a lot of you. And I try to make it fun but I’m also asking a lot. Memorize a ten minute piece in a week. Right? Go and practice IPDA for three weeks and then go to a tournament. That’s asking a lot of y’all and you stepped up to the challenge, you met it head on. Maybe it didn’t go exactly how you wanted, maybe it went better than you could’ve ever expected. I don’t really care. I know that it went better than I expected.

Christian: We also won.

Shauhin: Yeah, we won some shit! Let’s fucking go!

Christian: As a team we won, we had individuals we win. I’m so proud of all of you.

Shauhin: Yeah.

Christian: I’m excited to start the year off on a good note and keep it moving.

Shauhin: yeah, let’s bring it in on that. Do we know how to do it?

Christian: We did it once.

Talon: I met up with some of the team members after the drive back to OCC to see how everyone felt about the day now that it was all over.

Nina: It went very well, I had lots of fun! || When we left the room, all three of us would be like “Oh my gosh, what in the world just happened?” Especially after the first round. We were just like “What? Did we really just do that?”

Natalie: It was awesome! I would say I most enjoyed talking to people. I met people in the bathroom, people in the lobby. Even my own teammates, that was the best. Today was. — I was honestly dreading it.

Emma: Bye Natalie!

Natalie: Bye Emma! I’m excited to hang out. I’ll see you on Tuesday! But yeah like, Emma and everyone. I’ve definitely gotten closer with the team. It was just a good day. I’ve been looking forward to an in-person tournament. I was super nervous, didn’t really want to go in the beginning and now I’m so excited. I’m ready to work! That’s what I’m talking about.

Talon: There is a lot that goes on at a tournament. A lot. And that can be really intimidating. But, after you go through it all, after you walk through the steps, after you realize that, yes, this is something you are capable of, it kind of unleashes something. Suddenly, you aren’t worried about just getting through a tournament. You want to crush it.


Talon: We’re taking a little mid-season break so no new episode next week, but don’t worry. There are more tournaments, more events, and plenty left to explore. We have just barely scratched the surface of forensics. This is 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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