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C of I speech and debate team wraps up a banner year

Another successful season of competition has come and gone for The College of Idaho’s Howlin’ Yotes speech and debate team. Team members competed in three national tournaments this March, putting a wrap on another year’s worth of hard work and success.

The Howlin’ Yotes enjoyed great success at the Pi Kappa Delta tournament in St. Louis, earning awards for “Team Distinction of Excellence in Debate Competition” and “Team Excellence Overall.” Out of the 89 competing schools, the C of I ranked 11th in debate and 16th overall. Individual students honored at the tournament included Robert Sepich in international public debate, public forum debate, impromptu speaking and extemporaneous speaking, Marabie Barck and Brady Harrison in parliamentary debate, Gaites Swanson in public forum debate and Madai Montes in broadcast journalism and oral interpretation.

The C of I also competed at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence in Reno, Nev., where the team of Kris Cruz and Tyler Guryan received a first round qualifying bid for the first time in program history. In addition, Cruz, Guryan, Swanson and Krisi Howe participated at the National Parliamentary Debate Association National Tournament in Stockton, Calif., where the Cruz/Guryan tandem finished as octa-finalists.

First-year coach Tabitha Miller said the variation between the three national tournaments is a reflection of the Howlin’ Yotes’ diversity and the range of skills demonstrated by the 38 members of the team. Speech and debate is made-up of dozens of mini-categories for competition, and most teams tend to narrow their focus to a handful of these categories in order to simplify their practice and specialize in one field. But the Howlin’ Yotes are one of the few teams that integrate all methods in their practices. It has always been important to Miller and her predecessor, Mack Sermon, to allow students the integrity of choice between any of the categories. While this approach takes more work, the reward is clear:

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch,” Miller said. “To see students find their interest and excel in it, and then share that excellence with the team.”

Miller knows better than most – she has been involved with speech and debate for most of her adult life, including as a C of I student under Sermon's guidance and now as his coaching successor. When Sermon retired last year, Miller felt an urgency to protect the program and allow for the same range of student opportunities. She says it is particularly rewarding to see students overcome their shyness in public speaking or more difficult trials such as language barriers and rapid connection-making.

Senior Niki Ward has been a part of debate for more than eight years, ever since her freshmen year in high school. The friendships she has formed on the debate team and the challenge of speeches have inspired her to want to continue with the program in any way she can, be it judging future competitions or working as an assistant coach.

“The speech and debate community is not one that is easily left behind,” Ward says. “I have found myself among ambitious individuals who are internally compelled to succeed, who care about the world around them, and who understand and educate themselves about current issues. I have developed a second family among my team members.”

“Family” is a word frequently used by teams of all types at The College of Idaho, and it rings particularly true for the Howlin’ Yotes. Miller met her husband through debate, and now both of them work as coaches in the community to bring the power of analytical speech and debate to the Treasure Valley. Miller takes interest in the progress of each of her students and works hard to maintain a supportive environment for the program’s high demands on time, research skills and performance.

“Coach Miller has done a substantial job in her first year,” Ward says. “She has transformed our practice room using her motherly touch, and provides us a safe haven to mess up and have fun. This team is a family and, to put it simply, Coach Miller is the head of that family. She keeps us on our toes, pushing us beyond our self-imposed limits while simultaneously being a source of encouragement and understanding.”

With a promising group of underclassmen in the program, Miller looks forward to more successful years ahead for the Howlin’ Yotes. Preparations for the 2013-2014 campaign will begin soon, but for now, the team is enjoying its recent successes at nationals.

“We’ve worked really hard and I’m so proud of the students!” Miller said.

Story by Robyn Sanow, C of I student reporter