When freshman Zachary Herrera was considering potential colleges, he looked for three things: a business program, a marching band and a speech team.
In the University of Oregon, Herrera thought that he had found the perfect combination of all three. However, after applying, enrolling and joining the University of Oregon Forensics Team (speech and debate), he found that the speech team that he had eagerly looked forward to joining was virtually nonexistent.
In the fall, Herrera was one of three students participating in the speech aspect of forensics. Currently, the team is down to two: Herrera and fellow freshman David Sylva.
“I guess the only way I can describe doing speech at Oregon is kind of like being the lone wolf from ‘The Hangover,’ or whatever,” Herrera said of his situation. “I came onto this team and the ratio of Debate to Individual Events students was just way out of skew.”
Traditionally, collegiate debate teams are accompanied by a speech team, which is comprised of people who compete in individual speaking events, ranging from poetry readings to humorous interpretations of literature.
According to Sarah Hamid, graduate teaching fellow in forensics and one of Herrera’s coaches, the UO Forensics Team has made a gradual shift over the last five years away from the traditional “full service” forensics approach to focus exclusively on the debate program. Although this has contributed to Oregon’s consistent success in debate, including national titles in 2009 and 2011, it has also resulted in the speech team’s current state of disrepair.
Herrera’s position as the underdog at the UO doesn’t phase him — he has been there before. During his year on the debate team at South San Francisco High School, his small team of approximately 20 students competed against high schools in their area with upwards of 300 students on their forensic teams. Despite tough competition, Herrera excelled in his signature event of dramatic interpretation, garnering acclaim as a speech champion in the state of California and qualifying for the National Speech and Debate Tournament hosted by the National Forensic League. At that point, he had only been competing in speech competitions for one year.
Despite the challenges faced by participating on a two-man team, Herrera strongly believes that he is qualified to become a nationally acclaimed speaker on a collegiate level and is determined to continue breaking ground in the forensic world. So far, Herrera has qualified for four events in the National Forensics Association’s annual intercollegiate debate tournament. He will be competing for a national title in the events of prose reading, poetry reading and dramatic interpretation as well as performing a duo dramatic interpretation with Sylva.
In addition to seeking personal success, Herrera and Sylva have taken it upon themselves to build the speech team at the UO from the ground up. Last weekend, during the Robert D. Clark High School Forensics Tournament that took place in the EMU, the pair began the expansion process, recruiting eight graduating high school seniors who they believed could be successful on the collegiate circuit. With proper practice and the insight of two co-captains who have both competed on a national level, Herrera is determined that next year’s speech team will have the resources it needs to qualify each participant for nationals, regardless of its relative youth.
“David and I take this really seriously, and were ‘in it to win it,’ I guess, for lack of anything that’s not cliché,” Herrera said. “We want to make a name for UO speech, we want to be just as acclaimed as UO debate nationally … We want to be a threat.”