Ranked No. 2 nationwide among community colleges, the El Camino College speech-and-debate team is a proven powerhouse. But in this economic climate, even campus darlings fall victim to budget cuts.
The team from the Torrance-area campus has lost 20 percent of its budget this year, forcing it to cancel one of the most important tournaments of the year.
To recoup some of its losses, the team will hold a unique fundraiser at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Marsee Auditorium. During the hourlong event, the high-achieving debaters will demonstrate their skills in a series of fast-and-furious intellectual face-offs on the stage. Tickets are $10. If the team sells enough, it might be able to make that tournament in San Diego.
Francesca Bishop, director of the program - which in the college debate world is typically referred to as "forensics" - says it's an entertaining event, but she isn't under any illusions that student audience members will come rushing through the doors without some incentive.
"Kids are broke and busy," she said. "That's why we encourage instructors to offer extra credit for their attendance."
Bishop said the event promises to be academically stimulating, with speakers waxing thoughtful or persuasive on a range of topics in a variety of fields, from philosophy to literature to politics - most notably the recent presidential election.
One event in particular should be especially nerve-wracking - and therefore fun - to watch. This would be the impromptu debates, in which two opponents are given a topic out of the blue and just 10 seconds to prepare before launching into a clash of wits.
In another, speakers will receive a famous quote, explain what it means and come up with three examples of people who brought that meaning to bear.
(An example, from Winston Churchill: "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something.")
El Camino's forensics team has sustained its level of success for more than a decade. Two years ago, it ranked first nationwide among community colleges, and second when four-year universities - such as UCLA or USC - were added to the mix.
The program tends to open doors for a lot of El Camino students. Many win full-ride scholarships at four-year colleges. Others go on to law school or become tenured professors.
"I just had a former student graduate from Duke Law School, who is now clerking on the North Carolina Supreme Court," Bishop said. "I had a student who was a staffer in the White House communications department."
The canceled tournament occurs on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego this February. It is officially called the Sunset Cliff Classic, but is often referred to by its nickname - "Bloodbath at the Beach" - for its take-no-prisoners approach.
It tends to attract many teams from four-year colleges on the East Coast - such as the Air Force Academy - but few community colleges have the chutzpah to compete.
Bishop said she canceled the event earlier this year to save money. Since then, she has been pleasantly surprised by the success of this year's team, which just returned this weekend from another out-of-town contest, where El Camino cleaned house.
"It's one of the toughest tournaments of the year," she said of the upcoming jamboree in February. "Now that our team is so good, I'm really regretting taking it off the schedule."
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