Webster University’s Forensics and Debate Team surpassed the 154 awards from last year.
The biggest state competitor for Webster’s Forensics and Debate team is Southwest Baptist University. Team members at Webster used the mantra, ‘we have to beat the Baptists,’ in preparation for the Missouri State Tournament.
They were not able to beat the Baptists, but the team had a very successful event. They took home four state championships and third place overall in Individual Events Sweepstakes. Sweepstakes awards recognize overall team success, which is especially impressive to head coach Gina Jensen considering Webster is often competing against much larger schools.
“It’s hard to consistently win sweepstakes,” Jensen said. “Everybody has to be performing well and getting to finals.”
The Forensics and Debate club has taken home 186 awards this school year, surpassing its total of 154 from last year. The team did not begin keeping an award count until recently. Jensen believes this year has been the most successful of the last decade.
Junior John Wallis contributed to team success, but also managed individual success despite dealing with a family emergency during the event. His grandfather had just been in the hospital, so he went home a few days before competing in six different events.
“To be successful when you get to the event it has to be OK, tournament mode,’” Wallis said. “You have to be able to push all of your personal issues aside.”
Wallis won the state championship for impromptu speaking; an accomplishment he attributes to his ability to dedicate complete focus on his speeches.
Wallis was one of the four Webster students to qualify for the elite American Forensics Association (AFA) national tournament. The team doubled its qualifier count from last year.
The other national event the team is competing in is a comprehensive tournament hosted by Pi Kappa Delta. Teams around the nation often send 30 to 50 competitors while this year Webster will send eight. Last year, 13 Webster students competed and finished top five in the nation. Wallis believes that the team will perform just as well this year despite having fewer entries.
“This team is able to compete against teams with better funding, more coaching and more time to compete,” Wallis said. “Our entries have been practiced all year. We’ve perfected these speeches over time. I expect us to be in the top-five, but I think we can be in the top-three.”
Another reason for the success this year has been the addition of Freshman Sarah Hammeke. She qualified, along with AFA, for the Interstate Oratory Tournament, which is the oldest forensic tournament in the nation. Only two people from each state qualify. Webster formerly had perennial qualifiers for this tournament but has since hit a dry spell.
“Coach Jensen mentioned [the tournament] to me at the beginning of the year,” Hammeke said, “but only being a freshman, it felt like something too high to set my aspirations to.”
Hammeke attributes the bond the team has formed for their success this season.
“It’s easy to think of speech and debate as an individual competition,” Hammeke said. “But we really depend on one another to perfect our pieces. It’s invaluable to have feedback from as many different perspectives as possible.”
Jensen had the team set goals prior to the season. Many were team-oriented goals, reinforcing the importance of a positive team dynamic.
“I have never been on a team that didn’t care about individual success like this one,” Wallis said. “It’s always about the team. How’re we going to succeed? How’re we going to win sweepstakes? How’re we going to beat the Baptists? That team dynamic is what it’s all about.”