Simpson Speech and Debate Instructor reflects on yet another successful season


Photo courtesy of Simpson College

Professor Waugh says he’s proud of what the team has accomplished.

by Liv Allen, Feature Editor

The Simpson College Speech and Debate team won first place at the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament on March 18-21, marking the team’s fourth national championship title since 2016. 

This victory adds to the already impressive track record of Spencer Waugh, Director and Department Chair of Speech, Debate and Mock Trial and Instructor of Speech and Debate. 

Waugh started the Simpson’s Debate Team back in 2011, later adding Speech in 2013 and Mock Trial in 2016. Aside from turning the program into a national powerhouse, Waugh has garnered three significant awards of his own, the 2015 Simpson College Campus Leadership Award, 2015 Pi Kappa Delta Brightest Star Award and 2017 Pi Kappa Delta John Schield’s Award. 

Waugh believes a key element of his team’s success is their team mentality. 

“When we set our team goals at the beginning of the year, we want the whole team to be successful. So just like a track team or a swim team, you can have your best butterflier get a state championship or a tournament championship, but if you want to be the best team there, you have to have students win the backstroke and the freestyle. It’s the same idea with this national tournament,” Waugh explained. “So I think we have a really good buy-in that every student’s contribution matters, even if that individual student isn’t going to be a national champion that year. […]  In order to get the team award, which is what we earned this year and what we were trying to defend, you have to have quality entries in every single debate.”

The Simpson Speech and Debate team poses with their championship trophy. Photo submitted by Jessica Thomas

The team competed against 79 other schools in the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament, some of which were big-name Division I schools like The University of Central Florida and Texas Christian University. Despite the bigger competitors, Simpson Speech and Debate still held on to the title. 

“It is really hard for a school our size to put out quality across the board and then have students doing this well across the board, which was really cool,” Waugh said. “If you look at the total that’s on the website, you’ll see that we earned 302 points at nationals. We didn’t have any students who went to the national tournament and lost every debate round. So every student contributed to that 302 total points.” 

Waugh and his team continue to place emphasis on the individual competitor, highlighting the value each student brings to the entire success of the team. 

“Everyone knows that they’re part of a national championship team […] We talk about that all year long. This isn’t something that I bring up a week before the national tournament. We talk about how this program isn’t about ‘you,” Waugh said.  “Yes, if you’re part of this team, we think we’re going to build some skills that will make you way more employable, a better communicator, and a better critical thinker, and that’s what this is all about, but we want you to become part of the team.” 

COVID-19, like nearly all activities on campus, greatly impacted this year’s Speech and Debate season. Last year’s national tournament in San Diego, California, was canceled; this year’s national tournament was supposed to occur in Waco, Texas, but was held on the online tournament platform ‘Yaatly.’ 

 Junior and 2nd Place Extemporaneous Commentary National Finalist Elise Sturgeon explains how the team was able to effectively practice while still paying mind to the pandemic. 

“We have practice twice a week. We offer both virtual and in-person practices. In-person practices are still in really small groups of less than ten people. Most of the time, they’re smaller than that,” Sturgeon said.  “We do different things in relation to our events; in public forum practice, they do a lot of research about their topic because they only have one topic. They prep cases, they write contentions, they do mock debates, things like that. In parliamentary debate, it’s harder because we don’t know what the topics are going to be. We can’t prepare to argue a certain thing. We can just prepare in the argumentation style.  We do a lot of mock debates, we talk through like technical theory arguments and we’ll prep sample resolutions to get people prepared.” 

Since the team’s budget wasn’t being used for travel this year, Waugh set up a much more aggressive tournament schedule, giving students more time to get used to the new virtual venues. 

“We did probably three more tournaments than we usually do,” Waugh said. “Students had more of an opportunity early on to try out the virtual platforms. I think that actually may have burned out some of our team members because we had a lot of Zoom fatigue early on. We kind of had to hit the ‘reset’ button and practice really hard to get ready for the national tournament.” 

Despite a slower start to the season, the Speech and Debate team bounced back through hard work and commitment. 

“They wanted it. They really wanted it,” Waugh said. “They worked really hard […] The intensity was a lot higher, and they were really driven to work hard. Across all four of the debate events, we saw that teams who didn’t do very well in previous tournaments did really well in the national tournament because they worked really hard. It was the mindset of “Okay, we didn’t do well here, but we’ve got to turn that around because we want to win nationals”…and that’s exactly what they did.” 

Sophomore Sam Porter feels the team has flourished under the direction of Waugh and has helped him develop his personal debate skills. 

“[Waugh] is a great coach because he selflessly devotes his time and energy to helping individual students with their needs,” Porter said.  “I’ve had the fortune to have him as a professor and academic advisor, and the energy that he puts towards my success is noticeable. It really makes a difference to know that he knows us personally and is invested in our success as a team and as individuals both in debate and in life.”

Anyone interested in joining Speech and Debate can contact Spencer Waugh at [email protected].