The Mississippi State University Speech and Debate Council hosted the Southern Forensics Championship at the Colvard Student Union and various buildings around the Drill Field from Jan. 24-26.
This tournament served not only as a regional competition with 27 universities coming from across the United States, but it also served as the state championship for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
MSU Speech and Debate students competed in three different speech and debate divisions: Novice, students who have participated in eight or less tournaments; Junior Varsity, students who have participated in nine to 16 tournaments; and Varsity, students who have participated in 16 or more tournaments.
In this tournament, MSU placed first in the Debate Team Sweepstakes, earning the most points out of all of the other schools. MSU also placed third in the Overall Team Sweepstakes which combined their points from speech and debate.
Alicia Brown, senior Chemical Engineering major and President of the MSU Speech and Debate Council, noted how well the team has been competing together.
“I can’t remember the last tournament when we haven’t performed well as a team. We’re usually in contention for a sweepstakes. Often, in debate, we get first,” Brown said.
Many MSU Speech and Debate students also took home individual awards. Brown finished as an octo-finalist in the varsity division. She also placed fourth for the Speaker Award and was named Mississippi Champion.
After SFC, there are three major national tournaments coming up for the team. As a team, they will attend debate nationals.
Mia Robertson, a sophomore political science major who was the Mississippi Champion, winner of the Persuasive Speaking contest and placed fifth in Extemporaneous Speaking, qualified for the Interstate Oratorical Contest, the oldest speech contest in the US.
Brown said she is excited about the future of the team because of younger members like Robertson.
“I think we have a really bright future … I recently learned that Mia Robertson is in the top three in the nation in JV Debate, and Tyler Melvin, also a JV debater, I believe he’s somewhere in the top ten. Both are excellent debaters coming up behind (graduating members),” Brown said.
Cheryl Chambers, an instructor in the Department of Communication and Head Coach of the MSU Speech and Debate Team, also said this season has been great and anticipates even more success from the team in future competitions.
“This season, we’ve done great. We’ve had a few tournaments where we’ve brought home first or second place (sweepstakes) in debate or overall,” Chambers said. “We just got back from a debate last weekend, so we do travel a lot, and we, again, got first place in debate (sweepstakes), so I anticipate that my students will keep up the record that we’ve had of just performing well and continuing to really show off the talent we have at MSU.”
While the team does place a lot of emphasis on tournaments, they are also involved with hosting other events and activities on campus.
Every fall, they bring students together from different political organizations to host “State Debates” where they debate different political viewpoints. In the past, they have hosted the Student Association candidate debate as well as different speaking contests.
On Mar. 6 and 7, Speech and Debate Council will host their fourth annual Cowbell Classic. Cowbell Classic is the Speech and Debate tournament for students from 25 different high schools in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
Chambers said Cowbell Classic is a perfect way for students who are interested in joining Speech and Debate Council to experience what the team does at the collegiate level as well as earn service hours.
“College students are perfect to judge (the high school students) even if they don’t have any experience. Anyone who is available during that time, who would want to work a shift, judge a few rounds, we would appreciate their volunteering. It would count as service hours,” Chambers said.
With it being the fourth year Speech and Debate Council has hosted Cowbell Classic here, Brett Harvey, MSU’s Title IX/EEO Director and Debate Coach of the Speech and Debate Council, said it has grown more and more since it began.
“It’s been growing just a little bit every year. We have some very good, strong schools and some strong competitors show up,” Harvey said. “We view it as a chance to have a fun, well-run tournament for them but also as a recruiting tool to help them see a little bit of MSU and Speech and Debate here.”
Some students who are now part of the Speech and Debate Council also participated in Cowbell Classic; however, Harvey emphasized students do not need prior experience before joining.
“We draw students from all across the country. We draw students who have extensive speech and debate experience from high school, and people who have never done it before. Many of our best students, like Tyler Melvin, Tyler is amazing, and he never competed at all in high school.”
Harvey said there are two things students can get from joining Speech and Debate Council.
“One is learning to analyze complex issues and present them persuasively to a wide range of people. That’s the obvious one, but the less obvious one is learning how to be successful at something where you have a degree of independence,” Harvey said. “Right? You’re in that room on your own, and you’re responsible for you, and at the end of the day, your success is a function of how much work you put in. Learning to do that is really important.”
Anyone interested in joining the MSU Speech and Debate Council can contact Cheryl Chambers at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-325-9161. Interested parties can also check out their YouTube Channel at Hail State Debate or their Instagram @MSU_SpeechandDebate.