Valley’s forensics skills pay the bills.
By Henry Guembes, Staff Writer
Valley College’s Forensics team used, in part, GoFundMe to help finance its trip to the 2016 Phi Rho Pi National Speech Competition, and the resourcefulness paid off as the team brought home gold and silver medals to cap off the school’s best finish ever.
Phi Rho Pi hosts a yearly speech competition that includes 64 community colleges from across the nation. Around 700 participants speak in a variety of different forensic categories. This year, the nationals were held in Costa Mesa.
Two years ago, Valley placed two speeches into the final round, both by the same speaker; this year, 12 individuals entered 23 speeches in the final round. Of those 12, two won gold. Overall, the Monarchs earned a silver rating. Valley also boasts one of the smartest teams in the country with a 3.65 team GPA.
“It’s pretty huge—I think we became this symbol for what other schools like us can do,” said head coach Kevin Briancesco. “The fact that we were doing so well showed that you don’t need to be a giant-budget school, with enough hard work and some talent, we can overcome these things.”
This is 34-year-old Briancesco’s first year as head coach, though he has coached with the team for 3 years. Assistants Allison Bowman and Jimmy Gomez also played a part with the team. Briancesco collected the Collie-Taylor Coach Fellowship Award, which is given to the most outstanding coach at the national tournament as voted by students attending the tournament. He’s embraced the diversity throughout Valley’s forensics team and prides himself in being able to coach such a “ragtag” group.
“I was the first one in my family to go to school,” Briancesco said. “It was speech and debate that allowed me to get to that next level. Just seeing the doors that these activities open up for students—it keeps me wanting to coach them.”
Abdullah Salehuddin, a second-year team member, finished with gold in the informative forensics category.
“I enjoy speaking and I didn’t know this about myself prior to being recruited into the team,” he said. “In my first year, I gave a persuasive speech against the over-medicalization of boys with ADHD—one of the members of the audience began to cry. It was at that moment that I realized that it wasn’t about the trophies, it was about having a voice and being able to speak for marginalized groups.”
Dominique Bautista, also in his second year, earned gold in the program oral interpretation category. He took a year-long break from the team in 2015; this year, he took nationals by storm.
“For us to do so well after having so little was just a testament to the hard work we put in here,” Bautista said. “Our team in specific, because we are small, have a tight-knit group. Everyone encouraged each other and it paid off in the end.”