Cleveland Speech And Debate Team Rich in Talent, but Short on Volunteers

By Sylvia Strupp, Reporter

Cleveland’s speech and debate team, the Cannibals, coached by John “Gonzo” Gonzales and Matthew Parker, has had no shortage of talent over the past decade. In the last eight years, the Cannibals have won six Oregon School Activities Association speech and debate titles. The team is comprised of three squads (two beginning sections and one advanced section), all led by student captains, who recruit and coach competitors. Speech and Debate is, on the team, essentially a three-season sport, spanning fall, winter, and spring, and having practices after school once a week per squad. This after-school team is not to be confused with Gonzales’ in-school Speech and Debate elective, which does not compete with other teams at events, but is a rigorous elective that teaches fundamental speech-making, argumentation, and presentation. This elective class can often be a great college preparation resource, and many students who take the class go on to compete on the team. Despite this amazing work, they have been chronically short on volunteers and funds.

Like any sport, the speech and debate team is not funded by the school. Aside from the coaches’ salary, all funds must be entirely team-raised. These funds are vital to participation in  competitions and events — to get into a tournament, the team must pay a flat $100 team fee, and then pay per tournament event. For every three events, the cost is around $25. 

Parent volunteers are also in high demand. The team needs adults to provide transportation and serve as judges for each event. Though many parents are enthusiastic to help, and the volunteer experience can certainly be a rewarding one for those interested in it, this volunteer opportunity is tougher than running a football game snack stand for an hour — it can involve spending 10 hours on one’s feet several hours from home on an average Saturday.

“Mr. Parker and I know that we can get kids interested, and we can get them ready, and they do very well, but most of our work is spent finding ways to afford it, and finding parents to judge and drive,” said Gonzales. 

Funding shortages can be no small roadblock when it comes to competing in Speech and Debate tournaments, and the team spends much of their time and effort on raising money. 

Their main fundraiser comes in the form of an annual variety show in May called Sweet Speeches, where, as the name suggests, Speech and Debate team members perform their arguments for an audience. If you want to have an entertaining evening and directly put money into supporting the team, Sweet Speeches is the show for you. 

If you or someone you know want to help in another way, there can always be people who aren’t parents who may volunteer as judges or drivers for events. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings who are home from college, anyone who might be interested in getting involved can be perfect choices to come in and help. Send your tendrils out to your friends and family who might benefit from the opportunity and could help teens strengthen their persuasive speech skills ― it’ll be an enriching experience for them and a huge asset to the team. You can contact coach John Gonzales at jgonzales@pps.net for more information about volunteering, or visit the Cannibals Website.