Speech & Debate Gorlok Gala held virtually for second year


Webster University’s Speech & Debate has hosted the Gorlok Gala every year since 1998.

What began as the brainchild of two Webster coaches over two decades ago is now one of the biggest, most notorious Speech & Debate events in the region. The university has hosted its annual debate tournament, the Gorlok Gala (Gorlok), the last weekend of every January since 1998.

The winning school of this year’s tournament was the Western Kentucky University Forensics Team.

Gina and Scott Jensen have been organizing the Gorlok Gala along with students as a way to give back to the community, promote the program and provide professional and personal opportunities for Webster’s Speech & Debate team.

Garrett Dohlke, president of the Speech & Debate club, said that even though Webster students do not compete in the tournament, planning and hosting it is rewarding.

“It’s really fun to host, it’s not like, ‘Oh, we gotta host the Gorlok.’ You know, we’re not dreading it. We’re looking forward to it,” Dohlke said. “We’re happy to host and run [the Gorlok].”

Director of Forensics and professor Gina Jensen said no matter their majors, Speech & Debate club students leave Webster with enhanced skills in event hosting and planning.

“I’ve had students that have worked in my office for work study or have been on the team that have gotten jobs in PR and event planning without majoring in those things solely because of the events we run,” Gina Jensen said. “We really put a big portion of the responsibility in the hands of the students. That’s the best way they can learn.”

Fahima Band Ali, Anja Waugh, Emma Terris, Alexandria Darmody, Kamryn Moore and Garrett Dohlke volunteered to host the Gorlok Gala this past weekend. Photo contributed by Gina Jensen.

Gina Jensen said students being a main factor in organizing the Gorlok gives them a chance to experience giving back to the community and is a source of pride.

Since Webster hosts the tournament, the university’s Speech & Debate club students do not participate in the event. Gina Jensen said students in the club have their hands full with planning and organizing the Gorlok, which means importance is placed on hospitality to the visitors.

Because the Gorlok has had to operate on a virtual platform the last two years, competitors only need to go to their home campuses and participate via a computer or laptop.

Usually, the Gorlok would be held on Webster’s home campus, with over 500 visiting students competing in the tournament on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the university holds the award ceremony at a hotel. St. Louis food is catered from the most popular and famous local restaurants.

Scott Jensen, professor of Sports Communication and assistant director of Forensics, held the position of directing the Gorlok until 2016. He said originally, he wanted Webster’s tournaments to be distinguishable from what other colleges were doing at the time.

“I typically don’t like to do things in the normal way. I like to push the envelope [and] think out of the box a little bit. So, we added some hospitality kind of things. … There are special features that make it a little bit unique. [Our tournament] stands out more,” Scott Jensen said, “and now it’s one of the largest tournaments every year in the country.”

Another unique factor to the Gorlok is the variety and abundance of awards given to competitors, community judges and others who support the Webster Forensics team.

For the past two years, the Gorlok has been held on virtual platforms similar to Zoom. Scott Jensen, Gina Jensen, and Dohlke said this makes the Gorlok easily available to colleges from across the country.

“There are still some special pieces of our tournament that virtual format has not taken away, and the competition is still just as intense,” Scott Jensen said. “So that hasn’t been impacted at all. If anything, that has probably improved because we’re more accessible now.”

Gina Jensen said 44 schools from 17 different states attended this year’s tournament. She said while most school’s virtual pool of competitors has shrunk, Webster’s has expanded.

“We always get schools from New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, California whether we’re in-person or virtual,” Gina Jensen said. “But there are smaller schools with smaller budgets that can’t always come. So, because of it being virtual, no one has to worry about getting on an airplane.”

Because of the size and format of the tournament, the Gorlok is considered a warm up to the National Debate Tournament.

Scott Jensen said one of the proudest moments in his career is seeing how the tournament has grown.

Dohlke said while hosting the tournament virtually opens it up to those who may not have been able to attend before due to cost or travel restrains, people attending lose the in-person competition experience.

“I think everyone prefers competing in-person,” Dohlke said. “On the negative end, we miss out on some of those really special moments of in-person competition.”

Since the Gorlok has been virtual, there has been certain aspects of the St. Louis experience absent, according to Scott and Gina Jensen. In years prior, the university would bring the competitors food from St. Louis hotspots, and competing teams made it a tradition to visit attractions such as the Zoo or the Gateway Arch.

Scott Jensen said while the tournament being virtual reaches a greater number of people, it has its downsides as well.

“It takes away some of the uniqueness of our tournament, because so much of what makes our tournament special is not only the size of it and the competition that we attract but also the hospitality and the social element,” Scott Jensen said.

Scott Jensen, Gina Jensen and Dohlke all expressed hopes to return to an in-person Gorlok Gala next year to continue the in-person and on-campus traditions.

“It’s like going to the theater and watching a show or popping up your computer and watching [it]. I can see Hamilton on my computer or my TV and it’s great, but seeing Hamilton in person blows me away. And that’s what tournaments are like,” Gina Jensen said.

Although the social and physical interaction element is not as prevalent in the virtual debate environment, Dohlke said the positivity of the competitors has not changed. He says regardless of the platform, he still knows competing teams are enjoying the experience.

“Even though it’s virtual, it’s still the fun and enjoyable tournament it is,” Dohlke said. “Competitors are happy to be here and happy to compete, and are putting their best foot forward so that we can have the best tournament we can.”

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Kate McCracken (she/her) is the lifestyle editor for the Journal. She is a double major in Philosophy and History, minoring in Professional Writing. She has always loved to write and create stories, and she wrote her first book at age 10. Aside from writing, Kate also enjoys photography, environmental/animal activism, paranormal investigation and oneirology, the study of dreams.