The Concordia College speech and debate team is dominating competition this year. Both teams have had impressive performances in recent tournaments, and on Oct. 15 and 16 at Minnesota State University-Mankato and Gustavus Adolphus College, the speech team took home the gold.
Fred Sternhagen, debate coach and programs director for the forensics team, emphasized that this was no easy win.
“The Mankato tournament is very competitive,” he said. “We will see competitors from just about any state in the country.”
Because there are no divisions within the speech tournaments, the competition is higher and the accomplishments are hard-earned, Sternhagen explained. Among the defeated schools was the University of Northern Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Illinois State University, the latter being a top competitor in speech competitions according to Sternhagen.
The six cobbers of this winning team were freshmen George Kueppers, Christiana Hennings and Alex Elizarraga; junior Britt Aasmundstad; and seniors Andrew Eilola and Alex MacArthur. MacArthur also took home the title of Individual Sweepstakes Championship after winning first place in prose, poetry, drama, and program oral interpretation. He is now running on a streak of four consecutive wins for this title, which is the highest award an individual can achieve at each tournament.
“I’ve never done this well,” he said. “Everyone wants their last year to top out, so it’s been really fulfilling. But it’s also scary because I just want to keep going. Last year I sort of fizzled out, but that’s not going to happen this year.”
Sternhagen applauded MacArthur’s accomplishments, recognizing them to be on a national level, although he stated it “wasn’t a surprise.”
“There wasn’t much doubt they’d be national level competitors,” Sternhagen said of MacArthur and his teammate Eilola, who won fifth overall speaker. “It’s what they’ve been working for, and that’s where they’re at.”
Assistant Director of Forensics and Speech Instructor Mary Orcholski, who has coached MacArthur for two years now, expressed how rewarding it is to see MacArthur reaching his full potential.
“We’ve never needed to make Alex more talented,” she said. “But we have needed to mentally get Alex to the point where he is okay with being as successful as he is. I think he’s finally there. At some level, Alex as a senior is learning how powerful he is, and that’s amazing to see.”
MacArthur has set his sights on nationals, and he hopes to final in at least a few events. However, as forensics team president, his main goal is for the team as a whole to stay in the top 15.
“My confidence in our potential is consistently going up,” he said. “We won state tournament last year, and I think we can win it again.”
This is a renewed goal for him and the team after bidding farewell to four seniors last year who left a high standard to match. However, the team has been doing even better this season than last season.
“I hope we can, as a whole, keep the momentum going,” he said.
Fellow teammate Aasmundstad also shared her enthusiasm at the team’s continuous success.
“The team is finally becoming what I always thought it could be and wanted it to be for my last two years of competing,” she said. “We have a new team with a lot of new freshmen, and we’re all very close-knit. We’re successful, and we love each other.”
Both the speech and debate teams have experienced a startling amount of growth this year with nearly 10 competing freshmen joining the speech team and the debate team almost doubling in size. Team meetings have consistently had about 40 people attending, a number which Orcholski described as being “insane in the membrane.”
“It’s a lot harder to recruit for speech than it is for football,” she said, “and this year we’ve had such a fabulous influx of new people. It’s awesome.”
Orcholski and the team members also expressed how welcoming these new members has added to the camaraderie that is such a treasured aspect of the speech and debate teams. MacArthur expressed how gratifying it is to watch the new members become part of what he and the team call their “second family.”
“There was a member on the trip this last tournament who said it was the first time she felt she was part of a team,” he said. “It makes you want to cry.”
The 42 members in the forensics program are united by Concordia’s one-of-a-kind connection between the speech and debate teams- a connection that almost no other school still offers, according to Sternhagen. A big part of their success comes from campus support, MacArthur said.
“There are a lot of programs that do amazing competition out there, and they don’t have any campus support,” he said. “So in that way, Concordia is unique.”
Beyond the thrill of victory, however, is the timeless value of becoming a skilled communicator- a value that Orcholski was sure to emphasize as worth more than any trophy.
“Even though we’re winning, and it’s great that we’re winning, we here at forensics love working beyond success because we think that we do the best job at churning out awesome people,” she said. “The skills that we teach here are going to help you for the rest of your life.”
See Orcholski, MacArthur and the rest of the team in action at the upcoming tournament on November 5-6 in Bradley, Ill. The following weekend the team will compete at a tournament on campus.