Boise State University is generally known for their football team and iconic blue turf. What people often don’t think of is national championships, despite the Boise State speech and debate team, the Talkin’ Broncos, having recently won five of them in a row.
“I would like the Boise State community, the students, campus and faculty to be more aware and proud that they have a speech and debate program that is one of the best in the country,” said Dr. Manda Hicks, associate professor and director of forensics for the Talkin’ Broncos. “A lot of people don’t know that and I wish they did.”
This is the beginning of Hick’s 12th year coaching the team. She told The Arbiter that there’s only two national tournaments for college debate, Pi Kappa Delta (PKD) and National Forensics Association (NFA), and that affiliation is a matter of self-selection.
Hicks said that schools affiliate with a conference before moving to PKD or NFA, or both, for a national championship. Boise State has been with the NFA throughout the year. Unlike football or basketball, there is no SEC, Mountain West style of division between schools. Talkin’ Broncos compete against everyone, from UC-Berkeley, to Penn State, to College of Southern Idaho.
The PKD tournament is biennial, so 2011-2019 adds up to five consecutive national championships. Talkin’ Broncos won their first PKD championship in 2005, with following wins in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. They took second place in 2021.
Their team has also finished in the top five at the International Public Debate Association national championship three times in the last 12 years and was a semi-finalist in the National Parliamentary Debate Association championship.
“We value professionalism, excellence and creative expression. When you have those values, you tend to get really good outcomes,” Hicks said. “I would attribute the success of the program to its history, to the people that came before me, to the wonderful Idaho high school speech and debate community that we have that prepares students to come to Boise State and do such a good job.”
So far, the team has competed at two tournaments this year, winning both.
One Talkin’ Bronco is freshman eEnglish major Allie Hampton. She was first introduced to debate in elementary school by her teacher, who had the students stage a debate with local high school students who were there to judge their performance. She would go on to compete during all four years of high school before coming to Boise State, where two of her high school coaches were competitors.
“I looked at a bunch of other schools, but when I came to visit a Boise State debate class and talked to the director, I really got a feel for what Boise State’s team is, and the thing is they’re competitive, but in a really healthy way,” Hampton said. “They’re serious, they want you to focus and work hard, but it doesn’t feel like pressure. It feels like motivation.”
Hampton praised the team environment and helpful feedback she receives from her teammates. One of her favorite parts is how before a debate round, the team prepares their topics, which Hampton described as adrenaline-filled.
“In my personal relationship with speech and debate, I feel really fulfilled when I have a round with a good audience; when they laugh at my jokes, nod at what I’m saying or look engaged with me. It’s a really cool feeling, I feel like I’m really communicating something instead of just saying words,.” Hampton said.
She explained that in college debate, there’s a different topic every round. Participants receive them 30 minutes before the round. The same exact topic is rarely going to repeat at a different tournament.
“I really like rounds where I can talk about something I’m more comfortable in, but even the ones I don’t have any knowledge in are more educational,” Hampton said.
Being a first-year student, the Talkin’ Broncos has helped Hampton find a community on campus. She said having friends from the team to go to for questions has been a huge relief, especially as a commuter student
In addition to providing community, the team has also helped her grow as a person.
“It makes me think critically about the world instead of just listening to the news. I have to start thinking about, ‘Well, what does that mean? What is that going to look like in the future? How can we fix that?’” Hampton said.
Another member who lauded the community element of the team was president of Talkin’ Broncos and senior interdisciplinary major Brie Ellison. Ellison has been in debate since her freshman year of high school.
She loves the educational facet of speech and debate, along with the friendships she’s cultivated. Ellison enjoys debating environmental and domestic social issues, but said even topics outside of her comfort zone serve as a learning experience.
Ellison said there’s a wide variety of people on the debate team who have different majors and interests, so no matter what topic she gets, she’s confident in her teammates’ help.
The debate captain also gives lectures on potential topics, which she said has made her feel more comfortable debating issues she previously felt uncomfortable with, such as crypto currency.
Ellison commended Boise State’s strong system of coaching, the alumni and the funding Boise State provides their program. She said if she could say one thing to anyone interested in debate, it would be how it pays off time and time again.
“My ability to research and understand topics more fully, understand where the source is coming from, what it means, the impact,” Ellison said. “It really provides a lot of critical thinking skills that I think have not only helped in my own personal life and personal development, but also academically and for my career.”
This coming February and March, the Talkin’ Broncos will hold workshops to help students prepare for a national debate tournament, open to all Boise State students. Students can also opt to judge if they don’t want to debate.
The tournament will be hosted during spring break 2023, Thursday through Saturday.
“A lot of times our students want to be involved in speech and debate, but the commitment — it’s a huge commitment and it’s not a good fit for them,” Hicks said. “But this is the opportunity that if they are interested in speech and debate, they don’t have to qualify at large, which for a lot of national championships you have to. Not only do you not have to qualify at large but it has a novice division for people with no experience.”
You can reach out to Dr. Manda Hicks for more information by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.