Speech members practice for the 2017-2018 season. Photo by Bailey Holland.

The Concordia forensics program, which comprises the speech and debate teams, has successfully kicked off its 2017-18 season. While the first tournaments of the season always bring a mix of excitement and nerves, this was especially true for the speech team — not only does the speech team have a new coaching staff, but ten of the team’s fifteen members are first-year students.

Over the first weekend in October, the debate team traveled to the University of Northern Iowa and the speech team traveled to South Dakota State University for their first tournaments.

The speech team, which is under the new leadership of Dr. Najla Amundson this year, has risen to the challenge that comes along with new staffing. Noah Tiegs, a freshman vocal music education major, is one of the ten first-year members to Concordia’s speech team.

“I think the coaches are incredible, and they’ve handled the new responsibilities of sort of starting the team over really well,” Tiegs said.

Tiegs said that having such a young team is an advantage for new members, for they have received extra help and attention from their more seasoned team members.

Concordia’s speech team placed fifth out of 13 teams on the first day of the tournament and seventh the second day. Grace Weber, a sophomore double majoring in English writing and business organizational leadership and a returning member of the speech team, took third place in the category of informative speaking. She said that she felt satisfied with the results of the first competition.

“Since most of us were new, that was really spectacular,” Weber said. “We were the youngest team there.”

Dr. Fred Sternhagen, an assistant professor in the communication studies and theatre art department, has been the director of the debate team for thirty years. According to Sternhagen, the first debate tournament of the year exceeded his expectations, with each team winning two rounds each. Sternhagen said that one of the biggest challenges that has come up this year is that new students on the team have to transition from a high school debate team to a college one.

Despite this challenge, the debate team is working hard in hopes of including the national tournament on their travel roster. According to Sternhagen, the Concordia debate team has been to nationals 32 times, with the last time being in 2016.

“We do not have the same kind of divisional structure that athletics has. There’s no division one, division two, division three,” Sternhagen said. “But Concordia, for many years, has been functionally a division one team.”

According to Sternhagen, other schools that could be considered at this level include Harvard, Southern California, Berkeley, and Michigan State, among others. 

Sternhagen said that one of the goals for this year includes a push to be more open to new students who wish to join debate that have little to no experience. Weber and Tiegs both emphasized that the speech and debate team are open to newcomers year round, and encourage anyone with any interest to join.

“It’s really great,” Tiegs said. “It’s a lot fun. If you’re thinking about joining, you should try. You can join at any time during the year and the coaches will work with you.”

According to Weber, being involved in forensics gives students the opportunity to discuss issues that are important to them.

“It’s a platform for you to talk about things that are actually issues, which I really like,” Weber said. “I feel like I’m able to talk about things that matter and I’m surrounded by a group of people who are trying to change the world, even just a little bit, or who can at least bring attention  to important issues that are happening.”