Webster’s Forensic and Debate team recall their first in-person PKD National Tournament and Convention in three years.
From March 9 to 13, the Webster University Forensic and Debate team attended the Pi Kappa Delta (PKD) Biennial National Tournament and Convention in Orlando, Florida. The tournament was the first in-person nationals hosted by PKD since 2019.
Graduate student John Wallis had attended the last in-person nationals his sophomore year. This year, he was able to return to the experience as a mentor to the team.
“This has been three years in the making, and I have never been more excited. It was amazing. It’s hard to describe the emotions – like, I cried when I finally stepped into that room and saw people again because it was just such an emotional experience,” Wallis said.
Webster’s Forensic and Debate team walked away from the tournament with eight awards – including coach Gina Jensen’s induction into the PKD Hall of Fame. Aside from the awards, the national tournament and convention served as a sort of reunion and first-time experience for the team members.
The PKD National Tournament and Convention was canceled because of COVID-19 in 2020. According to Jensen, the last time the event had to be canceled was due to World War II.
In 2021, the PKD National Comprehensive Tournament – which is held every other year in place of the National Tournament and Convention – was held virtually.
While this offered the team a chance to compete, Jensen said it was very different from an inperson event. She said students often use the audience’s reactions to gauge how they are doing and to fuel their own excitement. Last year, however, team members performed in front of a computer screen.
“We are performers, and for two solid years, our students never received applause – not one time for any of their events,” Jensen said. “Never were they handed a trophy in an award ceremony – not one time. We had to use old trophies that we’d won years before just to take pictures.”
Wallis also described Forensic and Debate and going to PKD tournaments as a “tight knit, kind of like familial organization.” At tournaments, Wallis said there was a social element outside of competition. He got to connect and form friendships with people on forensics teams across the nation.
When the National Comprehensive Tournament moved online last year, however, Wallis said that atmosphere was difficult to replicate.
Garrett Dohlke, who is the president of Webster Forensic and Debate, said he had heard about PKD national tournaments since he joined the team. This year, however, was the first time he was able to attend the PKD National Tournament and Convention in person.
While there, Dohlke said he got the opportunity to meet someone he had followed on TikTok months ago in person. He said neither of them realized the other would be at the tournament until after they had arrived.
“So, I think that [is a] sense of community that wouldn’t happen outside of forensics. I think really just everyone’s there supporting each other,” Dohlke said. “Everyone’s there [and] it’s a big sense of camaraderie. … I think everyone was happy to be in person.”
And for Webster University, that camaraderie extended beyond current team members. Wallis said many Webster alumni came to the PKD National Tournament and Convention to see Jensen be inducted into the PKD Hall of Fame.
“To see your own coach – the person that you go to whenever you’re struggling or you need [help] with events, who is kind of the person you look up to in all of this – Getting to see that, I think, was really cool and was really nice and was obviously very well deserved,” Dohlke said.
This year, Jensen was one of three individuals inducted into the PKD Hall of fame. The other two, Charles Marsh and Martin Holcomb, were involved with PKD in the early to mid-1900s. Jensen said only four active coaches have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Scott Jensen has also been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I was very humbled to receive the award and very honored,” Gina Jensen said.
Jensen said the awards banquet was meaningful because of how well Webster’s team did overall. Along with Jensen being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the team won the Individual Events Sweepstakes award. She said two students, Alexandria Darmody and Advika Ugale, placed fourth nationally in their events.
Dohlke earned two personal awards, Excellence in Extemporaneous Commentary and Excellence in Persuasion. He placed seventh nationally in Extemporaneous Commentary. Overall, Dohlke said he is most proud of the team.
“For us to be able to walk away with the Individual Events Sweepstakes trophy and taking 14th in the nation out of 70 schools in individual events was a very proud moment for us as a team,” Dohlke said, “because we went through a lot this year with it being all virtual, pretty much and then with such a new group to be able to have that trophy it I think it was a very proud moment.”
Six students from Webster competed at the PKD National Tournament and Convention. Of the six, four are in their first year of being on the Forensic and Debate Team.
Wallis said many students on the team also took on extra events in the weeks before the tournament.
“I was in the office the week before we left for Florida, probably from nine until six or later every day, and people would come in and they would practice events – one after the other,” Wallis said. “It was just nonstop hard work from this team.”
For Jensen, the team’s hard work stood out in their performance. She said many students are already starting on their events for next year.
“I’m very super proud of them and especially proud of our president, Garrett Dohlke, who has really led this team through the darkness, right? We are paving the path because there’s no path ahead of us. So, we have to cut the path and he led the team through that,” Jensen said.
Moving into the future, Dohlke is preparing for the American Forensics Association’s National Speech Tournament. The event, which attendees must qualify for, will take place from April 1 to April 4. Dohlke said the PKD national tournaments will always stand out because of its sense of community.
For Wallis, the recent PKD National Tournament and Convention will most likely be his last at Webster. He said he will be going to another university next year.
Despite this, Wallis said he was proud to go to the PKD National Tournament and Convention with this year’s team.
“They have worked so hard, and I have just been so in awe of their resilience, and the way that they have handled every challenge that they have faced,” Wallis said. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in [the hotel] room when we were reminiscing about how tough this year has been for all of us. But also, how rewarding this tournament and this experience was. It was just so amazing.”
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Cas Waigand (she/her) is the editor-in-chief for the Journal. She is a major in journalism with minor in photography. Cas has covered COVID-19 and the 2020 general election, and enjoys writing, watching Netflix, crocheting and taking photos.