“I’ve grown up with ADD and a stutter, so I joined speech and debate team freshman year in order to learn how to control that and learn to use pauses in an effective manner,” Dominek Barajas explained, no evidence of a stutter or any problem concentrating. For this Forest Grove High School senior and team captain, speech and debate has had a tremendous impact on his life.
Barajas is only one of the 112,000 students that participated in speech and debate last year, according to the National Forensic League, which sponsors and governs competition in forensics at the high school level. The benefits of being involved in forensics have long been lauded by a broad range of well-known individuals.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “I think debating in high school and college is the most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business or for service on community committees. I wish we had a good deal more debating in our educational institutions than we do now.”
The value placed on debate by students, educators and politicians makes the importance of the activity readily apparent. For Barajas, the benefits are tangible and he is grateful, which is why he was alarmed at the situation facing the team earlier this school year.
“We had lost our coach,” Barajas said. “We didn’t have anybody to run the team and we were in a position where the district was going to cut us because they didn’t have funding for any stipend for a coach, so it would be on a voluntary basis.”
Had the team not found a coach, the results would have been catastrophic.
“Most likely we would not have a speech and debate team this year,” Barajas said.
Barajas and his team members considered the benefits that speech and debate had brought them and immediately began brainstorming ideas.
“Our initial thought was to come to Pacific University so we could continue having our wonderful forensics team,” Barajas said.
One of the first people they contacted was Pacific’s Director of Forensics Daniel Broyles.
“I was flattered that they had contacted me at the beginning of the year to see if there was anything that we would be able to do,” he said.
Broyles contacted Pacific alumni, sending out emails informing them about the problems facing Forest Grove High School’s team.
“Ultimately, he forwarded our situation to Jennifer Conner and asked if she would be willing to coach our team. We received an email saying he had found somebody who wanted to help and she came by,” Barajas said. “So now we’re lucky enough that Dan was able to send us our way a new coach.”
Engaging alumni and encouraging community involvement is nothing new for Broyles.
“Dan usually emails us opportunities,” Forest Grove High School coach and Pacific University alumni Jennifer Conner, ’10, said.
This emphasis on community involvement plays an important role in the Pacific University community.
“Aside from being one of the pillars of the institution as far as community involvement and integrating our skill levels as effectively as we can to help out other people,” Broyles said, “It’s also really vital because one of the things that Pacific struggles with, often times deals with exposure and so it has a two-pronged effect and not only helps the community but it also helps us to get our name out there to be more recognized than we are currently.”
According to Conner, Pacific University definitely helped foster the skills necessary to take on the role of head coach at Forest Grove High School.
“Part of Pacific is that there’s a lot diversity and a lot of different people from different places, especially from Hawaii, and it just helps when you’re learning to interact with different people, especially since high schoolers are very different from each other,” said Conner.
While the year may have begun with budget cut fears and uncertainty for the Forest Grove team, the following months have proceeded with a different tone.
“Well, this year at every single competition we’ve gone to, we’ve had somebody at least place, which is definitely something that’s improved,” Barajas said. “It’s definitely been exciting, because before I came to high school, we had a coach who would send students to nationals every year and when she left, we kind of fell apart. Going back to that former status that Forest Grove had is awesome and I believe it’s going to bring more student involvement.”
Indeed, many students are only beginning to discover the joys of participation. One new student, FGHS freshman Archer Morgan said that speech has already helped him with “presenting my ideas, so other people can understand them,” he said. “Also, making sure that I have good ideas that aren’t dumb.”
Morgan enjoyed a great deal of success winning and placing at multiple competitions. However, none of his successes in speech would have been possible without the help of the Pacific community.
For Conner, the work in Forest Grove is a labor of love.
“I decided that it would be something that I wanted to do because I love speech and debate and I wanted to be able to help out a team,” said Conner. “I come from a background of speech and debate. I competed all through high school and in college and being able to now coach it and take what I’ve learned, what’s both worked and not worked, and try and teach it to other people is a unique and interesting experience.”
This weekend, the team was focused on its next tournament and the future to come, one that is the product of cooperation between Pacific University and the broader community.