The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Speech and debate team talks and talks and talks … and wins awards

The members of CSUN’s speech and debate team will continue to make their case for being one of the school’s most competitive teams as they pursue more awards and accolades in various competitions this year.

But it’s all in the good fun, team members and coaches said, pointing out the pleasure of arguing the same point in new ways again and again, or performing the same two poems week in and week out.

“We have a really big team (with) a lot of students in it,” said Becky Opsata, director of forensics at CSUN. “We have had a lot of success already. They’ve done very well.”

During the CSUN speech and debate team’s first official competition of the 2005-06 academic year at Santa Clara University, 16 team members participated, and some won awards in both individual events and in policy debate. There are between 20 and 30 active student team members led by Opsata and four graduate student assistant coaches from communication studies.

Some speech and debate team members also traveled to Long Beach State in early November to work as judges and staff for a competition that allowed students from various communication classes to practice their beginning debate skills against other college students.

Opsata said that of the 70 students that traveled to Long Beach, 10 brought back awards.

The speech and debate team is not restricted to communication studies majors only, and team members welcome any CSUN student who is interested in speech or debate.

“We’re open to anyone on campus who wants to be on the team,” Opsata said. “Some schools don’t do it that way. Some schools restrict who can be on the team.”

Opsata said the team is good for the university, as well as for students who might want to get involved in speech and debate.

“It’s good for confidence building,” she said. “(It) makes people a lot (more) sure of themselves. They learn a lot. They learn in-depth about important political issues that you don’t really get an opportunity to do any other way.”

Opsata said it is fun to play a mental game and beat someone with your mind, a large part of debate.

“I just like arguing. It’s a lot of fun,” said Laura Wulke, a member of the CSUN Forensics team.

The members of CSUN Forensics compete in both policy debate and individual events, which can range from reading poetry to performing an informative or persuasive speech.

Policy debate involves two, two-person teams that discuss one specific issue or topic.

The debate consists of four constructive speeches in which arguments are created and rebuttal speeches are delivered. The debate category also has a cross-examination period in which a speaker must answer a question that is posed in the opposing speech after that person has completed their constructive speech.

The general topic for the entire 2005-06 academic year for all policy debate competitions is U.S. foreign policy toward China, Opsata said. She said different aspects on the topic are discussed, ranging from human rights issues to arms sales.

“We do policy debate because I like to see the students do the research,” Opsata said. “I think they can get a lot out of that.”

Opsata said she is happy with the results of the policy debate category so far this year, adding that the team has won about half of its debates this year.

For individual performance events like poetry, for example, Opsata said students are asked to come up with a poem or a series of poems that will total 10 minutes in length when performed. Students can find poems in anthologies, from other team members, or upon recommendation from speech coaches.

During practice, the coaches will work with the student and make the poem’s performance either shorter or longer, and also work to make the piece more dynamic for the audience and eventually for judges, who will score students based upon the performance.

Opsata said that for a persuasive speech, the merit relies heavily on what the speaker believes to be true and what can be argued.

In a practice session, a student will sit down and brainstorm any topic that they are interested in. Opsata said they could develop a list of what is wrong in the world that they want to fix, for example. From there, students see if they can work out that speech in 10 minutes using and memorizing quotes and other facts to help prove their points.

The only advice Opsata said she can give her students before a competition is to prepare.

“You’ve got to practice,” she said.

CSUN gives members of the team an academic credit per semester for competing, which allows them to have priority registration.

Rina Canzona, one of the graduate assistant coaches on the team, said she sees a great improvement in team members after each competition.

“A lot of students want to do their best,” she said.

The team on average attends between eight and 12 tournaments each year, and the university pays the expenses, yet funding is still an issue.

“Our biggest problem is we have nowhere near enough money,” Opsata said.

Out of the 15 CSUs that have a speech and debate team, the CSUN team’s budget is the 14th largest. Both CSU Fullerton and CSU Long Beach have a $100,000 budget, Opsata said, far more than CSUN’s.

“We have a $16,000 budget,” she said. “We have students that are good. We have students that are going to qualify for nationals, and we’re not going to have the money to bring them (there).”

Laura Prieto, freshman psychology major and a member of the speech and debate team, said that when the team recently asked Associated Students for more funding for something, the whole team showed up to a senate meeting to argue the team’s case to A.S.

“As a team, we are very united,” Prieto said. “A lot of people work full time. We’re very dedicated.”

Their dedication to speech and debate has spread to high school students through volunteer work.

On Oct. 15-16, a high school speech and debate tournament was held at CSUN. Opsata said 35 high schools participated, and more than 500 students were involved.

CSUN Forensics also has an outreach program and helps out with different high school debate teams. For example, Brandon Sweeney, political science major and member of the team, helps debate students from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys hone their debate skills.

“At a state institution, I think that we have a special obligation to work with K-12 education, so we started (doing) this outreach during high schools,” Opsata said. “It’s good for them academically. It’s good for their self-esteem, good for their social skills, and good to help them learn how to be public speakers.”

Opsata said it is also beneficial for college students to have the ability to take a leadership role and teach someone else something positive.

The team will next compete on Dec. 3 at two separate competitions. The individual performers will be competing at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, and the debate team will compete at Los Angeles City College. Both groups will compete in several tournaments over winter break.

John Barundia can be reached at

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