This past weekend, the Belmont Speech and Debate Team successfully defended its title at the Tennessee Intercollegiate Forensics Association’s statewide tournament. Held on Belmont’s campus, this was the University’s first time hosting the event in almost a decade. The team has brought home the title since 2019. Winning six different individual state titles, the team beat the second-place competition by almost 70 points.
The competition started strong on Saturday with all of Belmont’s varsity debaters advancing to elimination rounds and senior Luke Litz making the final round of Varsity IPDA debate. At the end of the weekend, he was awarded Best IPDA Debate Speaker in the state. After the tournament, Litz said, “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have competed with the wonderful people on this team for the last four years. Speech and debate means so much to each one of us, and I’m so proud of the way we all pulled together as a team in the face of really impressive competition. I’m just blessed to get to call these folks my teammates.”
Litz wasn’t the only senior to bring home state championship trophies in their final year of competition. On Sunday, Kleinschmidt, Carvalho and Kempf all were named champions in speaking events. Carvalho noted, “Speech has been an experience that has simultaneously taught me how to be better, but also when to accept and take pride in my work.” Carvalho was also named the 4th Place Overall Speaker in the State of Tennessee.
The team is now looking forward to the national tournament season. This March, they will be competing at Pi Kappa Delta Nationals in West Chester, PA, and IPDA Debate Nationals in Boise, ID.
Founded in 2000 by Communication Studies Chair Dr. Mary Vaughn, the team has established a national reputation, recognized for not only their skill but for their sportsmanship. “What I think is so special about this activity is how it self-perpetuates,” said Vaughn. “We have so many alumni who volunteer to coach and give back to the program. It is so powerful in the way it brings diverse people together in deep community with each other.”
Ryan Greenawalt—Director of Forensics, double Belmont alumnus and instructor of both communications and musical theater voice—said that this state title is the culmination of hours of weekly work from each of these students. “To say that I’m proud of them is an understatement. This team is extremely competitive, but they also understand that it’s not just about trophies. Each one of them is using their unique voice to make the world a better place. My job is to help them learn how to use that voice effectively and then get out of the way.”
Belmont’s Speech and Debate Team’s list of alumni include Broadway stars, lawyers, actors, writers, politicians, advocates and recording artists. Alumni of note include actor McKinley Belcher III, poet and professor Chastity Gunn, lawyer Rebecca McKelvey Castañeda, previous Director of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of Education Aketa Williams and Education Manager at Tennessee Equality Project Jace Wilder.
Reflecting on his time as a competitor, Wilder says that Belmont’s speech and debate community has been “a force for achievement and advocacy since its conception and continues to act as a breeding ground for immense empathy in the face of tackling really complex social and political topics.” Wilder joined the team as a coach after his graduation from Belmont’s political science and public health programs in 2022. “We’ve done a lot of incredible work, and I look forward to seeing where the team goes in the next two decades.”
• Aaron Kleinschmidt: State Champion in Impromptu Speaking, 2nd Place in Rhetorical Criticism, 3rd Place in After Dinner Speaking, 3rd Place in Duo Interpretation (w/ Alisa Osborne), 4th Place Prose Interpretation, 2nd Place Overall Speaker in the State of Tennessee
• Sarah Carvalho: State Champion in After Dinner Speaking, 3rd Place in Prose Interpretation, 2nd Place in Poetry Interpretation, 4th Place in Impromptu Speaking, 5th Place in Persuasive Speaking, 4th Place Overall Speaker in the State of Tennessee
• Luke Litz: State Champion – Best IPDA Debate Speaker in the State, IPDA Varsity Debate Runner-Up, 2nd Place in Informative Speaking, 2nd Place in Extemporaneous Speaking, 3rd Place in Impromptu Speaking, 4th Place in Rhetorical Criticism
• Alisa Osborne: State Champion in Informative Speaking, 2nd Place in Radio Broadcasting, 3rd Place in Duo Interpretation (w/ Aaron Kleinschmidt), 5th Place in Duo Interpretation (w/ Jasmine Pettus), 5th Place Overall Speaker in the State of Tennessee
• Jasmine Pettus: 3rd Place in Radio Broadcasting, 3rd Place in Persuasive Speaking, 5th Place in Duo Interpretation (w/ Alisa Osborne), 6th Place in Program of Oral Interpretation, 6th Place in Poetry Interpretation, 7th Place Overall Speaker in the State of Tennessee
• Sara Ali: 2nd Place (and Top Novice) in After Dinner Speaking, 3rd Place (and Top Novice) in Poetry Interpretation, 5th Place (and Top Novice) in Radio Broadcasting, 5th Place (and Top Novice) in Impromptu Speaking, 5th Place in Program of Oral Interpretation
• Alivia Kempf: State Champion in Persuasive Speaking, 2nd Place in Impromptu Speaking, 3rd Place in Extemporaneous Speaking. Qualified for the Interstate Oratory Association Championship held this year at the University of Texas at Austin.
• Lauren Stanfill: IPDA Varsity Debate Quarterfinalist, 5th Place in Extemporaneous Speaking, 6th Place in Impromptu Speaking
• Max Caskie: State Champion in Extemporaneous Speaking, IPDA Debate Octofinalist
• Kay Allen: IPDA Varsity Debate Quarterfinalist, 4th Place in Extemporaneous Speaking
• Meritt McGahee: 5th Place in Prose Interpretation
• State Champions in Individual Events
• Overall State Champions