Upstairs in the Mertes Center for the Arts, in room 4211, the whiteboard on the wall features each member of the Talk Hawks. Beneath each name is a list of their events, color coded.
If the event is in red, it means the speech is still in the writing stage. Stories are chosen, words are gutted, paragraphs are painstakingly pieced together. If the event is blue, the speech is being memorized. The speaker is engaged in the process of encoding each word into his or her brain, nailing down each character and embracing the language of tone of the piece.
If it’s orange, it’s tournament time.
“We have to be orange the Friday before the tournament,” said Jacob Alexander-James Montez, a first semester Talk Hawk, “or else we can’t go.”
Over the past year, LPC’s forensics team has traveled around the state and beyond, even as far as Brussels. It has swept up tournament awards left and right, knocking off opponents from UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College and San Francisco State. This band of rhetoricians has put Las Positas College on the map of collegiate forensics, developing a intimidating reputation in the realm of speech.
And they say it all begins with one word — preparation.
Of course, skill is a factor. You have to have a way with words, a presence when speaking publicly. But perhaps the foundation of it all is a passion for the craft. Their love of forensics drives them to put in the effort it takes to win.
“We see the hard work they put into it and see it pay off,” coach Tim Heisler said. “Not everything that you work hard at in life pays off, so when you see these many hours turn into an award or recognition for excelling, it’s a pleasant feeling.”
Those formulas include one-on-one time with the coaches, who combined have almost four decades of coaching experience. It also includes peer coaching and hours of self-preparation for writing, condensing and memorizing speeches.
Based on the Talk Hawks’ track record, once an event hits orange it usually equals success. With several tournaments under their belt this semester alone, the Talk Hawks have placed individually and as a group in first, second and third place when competing with other two year and four year schools at tournaments at campuses such as San Francisco State, Santa Rosa College and University of the Pacific.
“When I started working with this team, we were still trying to develop it and get it better so we were hanging a lot on these results,” Dobson said. “Now we’ve gotten to a point, at least with this year and last year, that we’re like, ‘well, we’re probably going to win this tournament anyways so it doesn’t matter where they finish.’”
The Talk Hawks have been around since the inception of Chabot Valley College in the 1970s, which was the name of the college when LPC and Chabot were joined as one. In 1986, coach (and current LPC instructor) Janet Brehe-Johnson came onto the team, and in 1993, she was joined by Tim Heisler. In 2001, coach Jim Dobson rounded out the trio.
Lately, they’ve become one of the most successful teams at LPC. Over the semester, they have won over a hundred awards, both individual and group.
But success does not happen overnight. The Talk Hawks meet every Friday afternoon for class time. The students are also required to meet for one-on-one time with either Heisler or Dobson throughout the week at least once, and several students are in the room a couple more days of the week to run through their speeches.
Hours of preparation are required to maintain the level they are at today. Heisler said sometimes he and his fellow teachers will walk into class and the students are already rehearsing.
“It doesn’t matter if I come here in the morning or the night or the middle of the day or whatever, there’s always someone in here,” first semester Talk Hawk Jake Averill said. “This is our meeting area, and I feel like everyone is so into it and helpful. If you want to run your speech with somebody, any single person in here would listen to your speech and help you.”
According to the team, another important part of maintaining the Talk Hawks’ level of success is being a step ahead of every other school. If the speeches are prepared by the beginning of the tournament season, then the rest of the schools have to “catch up,” according to Heisler.
“There probably is not a more prepared squad in our region than the Talk Hawks in terms of their readiness,” Heisler said. “It far exceeds all the other teams. Everyone has had to catch up. If we are prepared by September, hopefully we can stay ahead of the rest of the teams for the rest of the year.”
At the last tournament of the semester, they took second place overall, a feat they had not accomplished in 12 tournaments.
The Talk Hawks have stayed ahead, and if they continue to follow their method to success, they will continue to stay ahead in the future.