Speech and Debate
For nearly a century, the speech and debate team has been a standard of excellence in expressing the human experience through well-crafted communication. As Southeastern’s only competitive intercollegiate debating organization, we compete in national, regional, and state tournaments in policy and non-policy debate and individual event categories such as Extemporaneous, Impromptu, Persuasive, Informative, After Dinner, and Oral Interpretation—Prose, Poetry, and Dramatic.
We represent Southeastern both across the country and around the world. In addition, we are active members of Pi Kappa Delta, the oldest national collegiate forensic organization; the American Forensic Association; the National Forensics Association; and the Oklahoma Speech Theatre Communications Association.
Our alumni include several state legislators, former members of Congress, and dozens of leaders in law, business, medicine, journalism, academia, and the arts.
Join the Team
The Speech and Debate team meets at 4:00 p.m. every Wednesday in FA 208A and is open to all students.
The story of speech and debate at Southeastern begins back more than a century ago. On January 7, 1912, a group of 13 young men from both the Southeastern Websterian and Senate literary societies agreed to combine their respective groups into an apt new organization that they called the Southeastern Debating Club. They choose as its colors royal blue and maroon. The aim of the new debate club was “to develop the value of debate for Southeastern students.” Debate has had a long storied tradition in the United States and the importance and influence of debate has been equally important in the state of Oklahoma. Since the inception of the school in 1909, students participated in debating contests such as the state’s Triangular Debate albeit as part of different literary societies within the school.
The Triangular Debate was a significant annual event in which Southeastern competed against three other “normal schools” from the east and three from the west side of Oklahoma for intellectual “bragging rights.” The combining of the two literary societies into one debate club was a strategic play by the competitors of Southeastern. Competing in the Triangular Debate as one team instead of two the club felt as though they could improve their ability to more adequately prepare and more consistently win the principled Triangular Debates which were held twice a year– once during the Fall Term and also again during the Spring Term. As individual societies, each had had limited success in prevailing in these debates. However as a combined group, it was the proposition of these young persons that they could win more consistently. In the 1913 edition of The Holisso, the student yearbook, the resolve of the debating club is pronounced: “But let us never be satisfied. Let us strive onward and upward. Let us be ready to make a sacrifice in order to do every task that is set before us. Then, and then only, as year follows year, will our society approximate even to perfection itself” (49).
The Southeastern Debating Club would continue to recruit new students and debate across the state of Oklahoma for the next 18 years. By 1927, Julia Munson of the English department would assume sponsorship and coach the debate club at Southeastern. Membership in the club would boom then wane, yet each year brought more and more team success for the organization. In 1930, students under the supervision of Mr. Tomas A. Houston, Head of the Department of History, established the Theta chapter of the national forensic honorary Pi Kappa Delta. Consequently, it was during this time that Southeastern began to compete in not only regional but also national intercollegiate debate tournaments—many of which were sponsored by Pi Kappa Delta. Under the masterful leadership of Professor Houston (affectionately known as Uncle Tom), the organization had both great success and prospered from its national notoriety.
Pictured l to r are The U.S. Military Academy’s George Dell & John Lowry and William Scott Nobles and Gerald Sanders of Southeastern State College of Oklahoma, 1947.
On May 4, 1947, seniors Gerald Sanders and Scotty Nobles captured first place at the inaugural West Point National Intercollegiate Debate Championship of the United States and the Territory of Hawaii held at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Losing only one decision in nine debates, Sanders and Nobles defeated George Grover and Potter Kerfoot of the University of Southern California in the final round by a 3-2 decision. 29 colleges and universities, which had previously been selected as the most outstanding teams in the country by a regional coaches’ board participated in the first nation-wide tournament May 2-4, 1947.
Competition was so severe that no team remained undefeated. Army, Navy, and Vermont, which won all five preliminary rounds, were eliminated in the eighth, seventh, and sixth rounds, respectively. The U.S. Military Academy represented by George Dell and John Lowry and Notre Dame University represented by Frank Finn and Tim Kelley were eliminated in the semi-finals by Southeastern and U. S. C., respectively. The highest scoring 16 teams out of the 29 that entered were selected after five preliminary rounds, which permitted two teams that had sustained three defeats and seven that had lost two to enter the elimination rounds.
Flourishing from their success at the national level, Southeastern gained an enviable reputation for speech and debate throughout the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana as Southeastern hosted its own forensic tournament for 24 consecutive years from 1931-1955.
T. A. Houston would continue to coach the speech and debate team until his retirement in 1951. In 1953, Assistant Professor of English Ruth Hatchett assumed the role of coach and sponsor of the debate team. From 1955 through 1958, Southeastern fielded extremely competitive national debate teams. During that period, Southeastern debaters Sam Pool and Dan Batchelor were rated among the top speakers at such tournaments as Harvard, Dartmouth, and Notre Dame. In 1958, John Rex Wier, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Speech, succeeded Ruth Hatchett as debate coach.
Since 1930, not all debaters at Southeastern have been members of Pi Kappa Delta. Several students regularly participated in speech and debate but were not official members of the forensic honorary. Southeastern’s chapter of the national honorary, Pi Kappa Delta, which was re-charted in 2002 after a brief period of inactivity continues to attract new members and new talent to compete in speech and debate. As in 1930 and beyond, today’s students participate and compete both as members of Pi Kappa Delta and/or as members of the speech and debate team, now known as the Southeastern Speech and Debate Association (SSDA). SSDA is currently directed by Dr. Randy Clark. It is Southeastern’s speech and debate team’s goal to continue its long tradition (since 1912) of making its mark regionally and nationally.