It’s been a job well done – the end of the trip to Washington, D.C. and, with a three hour time difference, jet-lag is imminent.
“We decided we would stay up all night,” said MHCC debater Sara Cass, especially given that the flight was scheduled for 3 a.m. “Obviously not all of us made it.” The ones who did ran down to ballroom where the “Phi Rho Pi Prom” was hosted. “It’s this big dance… they have lights and music and drinks. They gave out these strobe lights that were inside of a foam tube… but people threw them on the ground.”
“Me and Sara took like 25 of them and took them up to the hotel room, and linked them together… and had our dance party with some folks,” said Danner Marshall, another MHCC teammate.
“The competition was awesome, but that night was my favorite part of the trip,” said Cass.
Phi Rho Pi is a large championship tournament for community college debate teams. This year, it was held in Northern Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital, over a week of competition and activities ending April 15 – and Mt. Hood returned with a national championship for two team members, plus some other medals.
The forensics competition at the college level can be split into two specific categories: IPDA and NPDA.
In IPDA (International Public Debate Association) the focus is on prepared speeches, or speeches delivered by individuals to persuade or inform the judges and audience of specific concepts or ideas.
NPDA (National Parliamentary Debate Association) is more along the lines of what comes to mind when considering “debate”; a back and forth organized sparing of ideas; a direct competition. “Phi Rho Pi is normally a dog fight,” said Shannon Valdivia, or “Shark” as her team knows her.
Valdivia has been the MHCC’s debate coach of the last 19 years, the second longest tenure director in MHCC’s history. “The best community colleges come to have it out and sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.” Often debaters will focus on a specific style or subcategory within either of the two styles.
For example, Marshall thrives predominantly on a variation of IPDA known as Interpretation of Literature. Here, competitors take portions of literature and/or poetry and compose a theme to convey a core idea that binds the selected pieces. “But you can’t just do one,” he said. “Shark wants us to do something else to expand and break outside of your norms. So, poetry was my main focus all year. I crafted my piece over the summer. Me and Shark worked on it. The first tournament it took third, then the second, it took second then every time, after that it was getting first.”
But then, the championship. “Day One I got sick. I was coughing and congested and sneezy and I found out I was ONE point away from finals – I was kicking myself,” Marshall said. He was alongside Kevin Henderson who also made it to the silver round of IPDA, and Tyler Garcia who took a bronze. “Then, Shark was like ‘Well, you’re going to have to turn that frown upside down because you broke NPDA’ and I was like…wait…what?”
In NPDA, MHCC dominated. Henderson and Garcia took gold, making them national champions. “When we saw our match up for the bronze round we need(ed), we were debating a good team from a school that has traditionally done NPDA and has been really successful at it,” said Garcia. “We ended up winning. At the gold round after having won against a really good team we hit another team from the same school that had consistently scored a little lower than the last team. We felt pretty good and ended up winning.”
Henderson said that “being in the running for both was definitely a bit stressful, but more exciting than anything.”
Marshall placed with a silver. “[In the bronze round] (t)he opponent brought like 30 people to watch the debate, and I was super stressed out, because whenever they would make points everyone would clap and nod,” he said. “But when I would say things they’d all mutter like ‘Ah, that was dumb’ – but I won. I took second (in the silver round), but the girl who won was so good, and I was so happy to just be here.”
The moment was especially surreal for Marshall, who recalls feeling insecure when first re-joining the debate team last year. “I had a really big self-esteem and confidence issue at the end of the year. So full circle, to put in the effort into trying to do well in my events and then to make it to final round in debate,” he said. “It was a full 180 examining myself where I was and where I wanted to be.”
To MHCC’s team, debate is far more than an academic competition. The influence Valdivia and the teammates have on each other’s lives has been immeasurably valuable. “I’m extremely proud of our team and thankful for them and our coach. It’s through their support and teaching that I’ve been able to find so much success,” said Henderson.
Amidst the partying the night before returning home, Marshall found a specific moment to remember. “We talked about everything and the experiences that we gained. Sara explained the exact reason why she joined the team.”
Cass said, “I took Shannon’s class in spring of 2016. It was one of my first classes at Mt. Hood. I was pretty emotional, kind of in a ‘bummy’ state. I had transferred from Clackamas where I had planned on running track, but I had some medical issues. It kept me from even liking running any more. Shark was like, ‘I think you would really benefit from joining the team.’ I was, like, ‘No thanks.’ I was shy.
“I ended up joining the next winter,” Cass continued. “It’s probably been some of the most challenging and horrifying events I put myself through, but at the same time I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I have more confidence.”
Cass did not bring home any medals from the D.C. trip, but isn’t bummed. “I didn’t break into debate. I was one away from breaking,” she said. However, she did have an amazing experience. “I had the time of my life, I learned a lot about speech, I got to meet people from all over the country which was amazing and hear(d) a lot of different perspectives that you don’t always hear. It was really eye-opening.”
“Watching this group bond over the week and support one another was the best part of it all,” said Valdivia, the proud coach.
The investment in one another and genuine passion for debate has served MHCC well over the years. Valdivia recounts MHCC’s history of excellence. “We have won numerous regional titles, many national level awards (National Debate Champions in 2001, 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2017), and a team National Championship at Pi Kappa Delta NCT in 2006 as well as many numerous National Sweepstakes (Bronze/Silver) at Phi Rho Pi Nationals.
‘We were also honored to be the FIRST Community College to host the Nation’s Largest National Championship (Pi Kappa Delta) in 2011. That tournament brought 800 students from over 89 colleges and universities to our campus,” said Valdivia. “We have recently been approached to host the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence next Spring in March of 2018 – again.
“MHCC would be the FIRST Community College to host this prestigious tournament – bringing the best teams in NPDA debate to our campus.”
The program’s success is evident when a visitor first walks into the little room dedicated to the team in the corner of campus. The second thing one notices (after the half-collapsed blue couch that has a history in and of itself) is the nearly two walls of awards.
Shannon shared her future plans for forensics at MHCC. “It is my hope that we will host a couple of events as we end the tour, at the very least, have one last inter-team scrimmage with our newest members and our first year competitors – so they get a taste of competition and perhaps allow our second year competitors and the nationals team to perform a showcase on campus so that the community can see what it is that we do!” she explained. (It is) our first priority-plan for next year!”
The team is on board. “I already have a slew of speeches I’m preparing and I’m really zoning in on debate,” said gold medalist Henderson.
“Always definitely want to improve,” said Garcia.
Marshall will also be returning. Even Cass, who will be transferring to PSU next year, plans on dual-enrolling to continue being a part of the team.