Colorado College's History of Speech and Debate
Speech and Debate are traditions at Colorado College that are almost as old as the College itself. With primary accounts and reporting dating back to the first publication of The Tiger (CC’s student newspaper from 1899-1969), speech and debate has had a place on campus since the Apollonian Club founded in 1891. The College first sponsored intercollegiate debate teams in the 1900’s under the direction of Professors Dr. James Llorens, Dr. W.D. Copeland, and Amanda Ellis. However, intermural debate was much more popular. During the 1890’s and early 1900’s, the campus and Colorado Springs community would gather annually for a debate between members of The Apollonian Club and Pearson’s Society.
Quite unlike debates today, the atmosphere was raucous with each group producing dueling chants that drowned out all other noise in the room. In 1914, the intercollegiate debate team made its first trip to William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, a trip the team still makes to this day.
During the 1920’s, John Tallman assumed the position of Chairman of the Forensic and Dramatic Committee. The Committee stressed equal participation in debate among genders and in 1924 began offering women 2 credit hours of English for their participation in debate. In the same year, Professor’s Copeland and Abbot began promoting debate to Southern Colorado’s High Schools and operated several tournaments. On campus, debate seeped into the Greeks, as CC hosted both the Athenian Society (a forum for sororities to debate each other) and Tau Kappa Alpha (a debate fraternity).By 1931, there were three intermural debating clubs, the Minerva Club (all women), the Apollonian Club (all men) and the Ciceronian Club.
William Woodsen "Chief" Tyree
In 1944, Professor William Woodson “Chief” Tyree began coaching and directing intercollegiate speech and debate at CC. Famously, Prof. Tyree established the first radio station in the Rocky Mountain Region, KRCC-FM. Prof. Tyree along with Prof. Albert Hart (a visiting professor from Harvard) hosted the first High School debate tournament at CC in 1948. During this time the Colorado-Wyoming Forensics League was formed and institutionalized forms of intercollegiate debate began to arise, and it wouldn’t be until 1949 that governing body of forensics in the United States would be established, the American Forensics Association. Throughout the 50’s Prof. Tyree built the reputation of the CC Speech and Debate Team, and the team was considered one of the best in the Rocky Mountains and West. Tyree is also responsible for starting the Pick n’ Pan pin awarding ceremony, that The Tiger described as “…the Oscar’s of the CC Speech Department.” Tyree was also in charge when CC Speech and Debate integrated genders during the early 60’s.
James 'Al' Johnson
In 1968, returned CC alum and assistant professor of Economics, James ‘Al’ Johnson took over the coaching and directing of the CC Speech and Debate Team. Affectionately called ‘Uncle Al’ by his students, Prof. Johnson coached the team for over 40 years. Not only did Prof. Johnson revolutionize the academic program at CC, but he also revolutionized competitive intercollegiate debate. The American Forensics Association sponsors five debate organizations, and Prof. Johnson founded or co-founded three of them. He imagined the Block Plan, and over saw it’s implementation from 1970 until 1990 as the College’s registrar.He began computing and digitalizing student and academic records, the points system for registering for classes, and a campus-wide writing program
Al Johnson coached 5 National Debate Tournament qualifiers during the 70’s, notably Colorado Senator Diana DeGette. Later in his career, Prof. Johnson began to experiment with different formats of debate with the goal of making debate more accessible to students. This culminated in his co-founding the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA), which CC continues to debate within. Prof. Johnson finally retired in 1995, but continued to assist with Speech and Debate.
Speech and Debate Today
From 2006-2007, Chris Shaw directed the team of Travis Whitsitt 07’ and Adam Kretz 08’, who were Semi-Finalists at the NPDA National Tournament. From 2007-2008, Scott Weaver 06’ directed the team and Adam Kretz into the Irish Debates. From 2008-2011, William ‘Sim’ Butler coached the team. During his time at the helm, Sim restarted intermural debate on CC Campus. Sim coached Julian Plaza 09’ to the ranking of 20th best speaker at the NPDA National Tounrnament and Joel Minor 11’ into the Irish Debate. He also coached Brynn Schorr 13’ into a Finals appearance at the American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament. Julian Plaza assumed the role of Director of Forensics and Debate in 2011.