Speech and Debate Squad Excels in National and Regional Competition
by David Oehler BA ’14
Speech and debate at Lewis & Clark is one of the most successful programs of its type in the country, with a long history of individual and team wins in prominent regional and national competitions. It’s also growing. In 2012, when Director of Forensics Joe Gantt took over, there were 17 participants. Now, in 2022, there are 45. But what’s truly unique about the program is that it is now “comprehensive,” meaning participants have the opportunity to excel in either individual events and/or debate, rather than the usual approach of focusing on just one or the other.
In many ways, the art of speech and debate is a perfect distillation of the benefits of a liberal arts education, says Gantt. “One of the things that attracted me to Lewis & Clark as an institution was its emphasis on the liberal arts. The holistic education that students receive at L&C—especially the information they glean from their coursework—is the ideal preparation for success in speech and debate.”
The squad’s recent competition results back that up. During the 2021–22 academic year, the team attended the American Forensic Association’s National Speech Tournament, where squad member Hope Smothers BA ’22 earned first place in prose interpretation and sixth in dramatic interpretation. Aaron Lutz BA ’22 came in fifth and sixth in two events, and Eden Kenney BA ’23 came in sixth. The squad, as a whole, secured a sixth place finish, breaking their previous record for best placement in this competition. Later, at the National Forensic Association’s Championship Tournament, Lutz and Smothers garnered top honors, with Lutz winning two titles in extemporaneous and impromptu speaking and Smothers winning second place in prose interpretation. Squad member Alex Webb BA ’22 won the national championship in Lincoln-Douglas debate. The squad took home the President’s I award for the top program of its size in the country.
While these results are impressive on their own, they take on added significance considering that, for some members, these competitions were their first in-person events since the COVID-19 pandemic began. For other members, these events were their first in-person competitions ever.
Gantt attributes much of the team’s overall success to the multifaceted backgrounds of the participants. “We have some students who join us after having been at the top of the national rankings in high school, and we have others who have never done this before. Oftentimes, as you might expect, our students are majoring in political science, international affairs, economics, or rhetoric and media studies. But we also have a number of members who are math and natural science majors. We draw from all academic disciplines.”
According to Gantt, the team also succeeds through flexibility and freedom. “We promote a well-balanced team that is strong in academics, strong in speech and debate, and strong in making social connections on campus.” Members always have the opportunity to pursue the aspect of competition or performance that interests them most, especially now that L&C has increased its speech offerings to be fully in line with its debate ones.
The future of speech and debate at Lewis & Clark looks bright. “We’ve got a very young team,” says Gantt. “Many are sophomores or first years. They’ve gotten the opportunity to model the success of the seniors who have recently won national titles. So we’re looking forward to great things.”
Students applying to Lewis & Clark who want more information about joining the speech and debate squad—including scholarship information—should fill out the Speech and Debate Inquiry Form. Current L&C students who want to get involved are encouraged to contact Gantt directly at email@example.com.