Team’s success not up for debate

Two years ago, debating without ever meeting your teammates or opponents would have been unheard of. But in 2020-2021, it was the San Jacinto College debate team’s modus operandi.

Despite an abnormal year, the North Campus team celebrated a huge success this spring, sweeping up the silver overall sweepstakes award at the Phi Rho Pi National Forensic Organization National Tournament.

Zoom practice
Zoom practice (Photo courtesy of Floyd McConnell)

Teammates Samantha Nava and Erin Schachtner also snagged individual silver and bronze awards respectively in international public debate at the national tournament.

Earlier in the season, the dynamic duo made its mark at the Texas Intercollegiate Forensics Association State Tournament, where Nava and Schachtner tied for first-place top debate speakers out of 48 speakers from two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Rounding out the debate team were San Jac students Andres Quezada and Ismael Delossantos. Debate coach and speech professor Floyd McConnell dubbed it his “small but mighty” team.

Training and competing took place completely online. According to McConnell, the biggest challenges for debaters were navigating technology, ensuring internet bandwidth for practicing and competing, and polishing their camera presence.

They rose to the occasion but were “Zoomed out” by the end.

“To say I am proud of our students would be an understatement,” McConnell said. “Our team has truly proven themselves through talent, hard work, perseverance, adaptability, and resilience.”

Nava credits her success to the motto “fake it till you make it.” At first, public speaking petrified her, but she acted as if it didn’t.

“Being able to persuade people while engaging them in the conversation requires a lot of confidence in what you’re saying,” she said. “I found the best way [is] to stay confident-appearing even when you are internally panicking.”

Another key? Persistence. Nava often crashed after long days packed with grueling debate rounds, but she set her alarm, woke up on time, and tackled more rounds, still performing at her best.

“I met many new debaters who pushed me to do better, and I proved I could stand up to the ones who have done this much longer than me,” she said.

While McConnell himself switched to a speech communications degree after debating at San Jac in the 1990s, Nava plans to pursue computer science. The skills she has learned from debate translate to any field.

“Most people don't want to even try speech and debate because they are scared of the public speaking aspect,” Nava said. “That eventually goes away, and you’re left with overall better communicating skills and confidence.”

Fall 2021 debate tournaments will continue online, but McConnell has seen the team adapt and rise to any challenge. This season will be no different.

“The fact our team earned this prestigious award on the national level in a 100 percent virtual environment speaks to their talents,” he said. “Since COVID, we’ve been thrown many curveballs. This year we understood what it means to be resilient. We will be ready to play.”