Forensics squad to host national tourney March 24-26
by: Jim Clark From left, Rob Sepich, Zach Nicholas, Dalton Hellman and Kimball Craig relax in the Mt. Hood Forensics Team room, the walls of which are festooned with plaques from the many competitions the group has won.

Several students at Mt. Hood Community College can't keep their mouths shut.

And that's a good thing.

These students belong to the school's Forensics Team, which is about to make history when Mt. Hood becomes the first community college to ever host the Pi Kappa Delta Speech Tournament.

The Mt. Hood students are the current International Public Debate Association's national season sweepstakes leader and have also finished in the top 10 of all major tournaments they attended this year.

Maybe they win so much because they're scared.

Sometimes, if they use words like 'Uh' or 'Um' or 'Like' in a speech, they have to drop to the floor and do push-ups afterward, noted Assistant Coach Liz Kinnaman, adding she wants 'strong nerds, not weak nerds' on her team.

'We're masochists,' added Kimball Craig, a team member.

And sadists as well, according to his colleague Gabrielle Guerrero, who confessed to enjoying 'watching people squirm' during a debate.

Big deal

Pi Kappa Delta, a century old honorary society for forensics competitors, will hold its convention in Portland on Wednesday, March 23, and its national tournament will run from Thursday through Saturday, March 24-26, at the college.

Students from more than 80 universities and colleges all over the country will compete in dozens of categories, including prose interpretation as well as persuasive and extemporaneous speaking.

The event is expected to draw about 900 people to campus, including students, coaches, family members and other guests, said Mt. Hood Coach Shannon Valdivia.

Competitions will take place simultaneously in about 100 rooms. Mt. Hood employees and volunteers from the competing colleges and universities will serve as judges.

Ready, set, speak!

In a roundtable interview, several Mt. Hood team members shared their plans for the tournament.

Ryan Rhoades, a political science major, joked that he 'didn't expect to win anything,' but added, 'I'm confident in my skills in extemporaneous speaking.'

He noted in such competitions participants are asked to come up with 30 minutes of material in answer to a question.

Ari Tacker, an English major, is the team's newest member. She's learning the art of persuasion because she wants to practice law someday.

'It's the main point of being an attorney - persuading,' she said.

Guerrero studies health science and said she enjoys piecing together various poetry passages to create a new poem, one of the competitive categories.

'I think you can take words that are very intentional … and you can create your statement about society,' she said.

Rob Sepich studies engineering and sees the upcoming tournament as a chance to better his skills.

'I want to compare myself against other competitors and see what the rest of the nation has to offer,' he said.

He noted, for example, that his team uses a more technical approach to debate, whereas teams from such states as Texas employ a more conversational style.

Zach Nicholas, a political science and history major, said he's particularly interested in portraying different characters in the prose interpretation portion of the tournament. At a recent tournament, he had to take on the persona of a firefighter-paramedic, he said.

Dalton Hellman, who also studies political science and history, said he's looking forward to extemporaneous speaking as well as informative speaking. Meanwhile, Craig, a political science major, relishes British parliamentary style team debates.

'I like it because I think it brings a lot of eclectic discussion,' he said.


The students noted they're all interested in scoring speech scholarships to four-year colleges, something at least a former dozen members of the Forensics Team have done over the past 10 years, according to Valdivia.

There are other benefits as well, according to Guerrero.

'It's a great way to keep up on current events and to keep my mind limber as well so I don't go totally nuts studying health science,' she said.

Several of the students said they've learned to argue points much better than their peers, and Guerrero said they're actually exercising the First Amendment right to free speech, while others take it for granted.

'I'm always learning about something I didn't know before,' Rhoades said.

Talk show

WHAT: Pi Kappa Delta National Speech Tournament

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 24; Friday, March 25; Saturday, March 26

WHERE: Mt. Hood Community College, 260000 S.E. Stark St.

COST: Free and open to the public

INFO: Call Shannon Valdivia at 503-491-7634; write This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or contact

MORE: Individuals requiring accommodations due to a disability may contact the Disability Services Office at 503-491-6923 or 503-491-7670 (TDD).

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