“Butts. You have one. We all have one. They’re supportive, fashionable, trendy and can catch you when you fall” Talk Hawks Anna Wolde and Leah Anonuevo said.
This might be what you hear if you enter the speech, or forensics, team’s practice room, better known as the Talk Hawks. Anna Wolde and Leah Anonuevo’s duo interpretation speech is about butts, but that is far from the wildest thing about the Talk Hawks.
From personifying their creepy classroom doll and mascot, Lindsey, to encouraging blood plasma donations to afford trips to international tournaments, this year’s speech team is “fresh and talented,” according to Talk Hawk co-coach Jim Dobson.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a more talented team–just like raw talent to play with,” Dobson said.
The Talk Hawks are no stranger to success, last year coming second in the Phi Rho Pi National Championship, a tournament for community colleges across the country, in the middle school division. However, this year with 15 students on the team, they are blowing up tournaments and taking top five places in most of their events.
The team took home 86 awards from tournaments at the University of Pacific, San Francisco State and the University of Nevada. The Talk Hawks placed first overall in two of the tournaments.
Unlike other speech teams, the Talk Hawks start preparing in July. If the Talk Hawks started preparing for their first tournament in August, they would not be ready, Dobson said.
“We run a pretty tight ship, with a lot of practice and prep,” Dobson said.
Coaches Tim Heisler and Jim Dobson have been coaching the team far longer than most speech coaches. Dobson started in 2001, and Heisler in 1993. They attribute the Talk Hawks’ success to their three-year coaching rotation, which helps avoid burnout.
“There’s a lot of turnover in forensics competitions…I think potentially the biggest one is the time that it involves in order to be successful at this and travel for tournaments,” Dobson said.
When the Barbara Mertes Center for the Arts, or the 4000 building, was constructed in 2010, the Talk Hawks were given a dedicated home base for them to use anytime on campus. Heisler says this has also been an advantage against other speech teams.
“I kind of live there,” Talk Hawk Ameya Puranik, who has events in 1v1 debate, informative and extemporaneous speaking, said.
Talk Hawks spend hours outside of class practicing in the room. From the time they join the team, they work with the same scripts and revise them throughout the school year. These scripts are usually picked out by the coaches, but it is up to the team how they might perform them.
Puranik, who competed in his high school debate team, deliberately sought out the Talk Hawks before coming to Las Positas.
“There are people every semester that will arrive at our door the first day of class because of past success. They have heard about us. Whereas 10 years ago, everyone on the team was a recruit. Words getting out,” Heisler said.
Dobson and Heisler also teach public speaking classes, where they try to pinpoint skilled and confident students and recruit them for the speech team.
“…Do what?… We have a speech team?” Heisler quipped.
“Most of them don’t know they’re good,” Dobson said.
Talk Hawk Jonathan Du, who has events in speech to entertain, impromptu and persuasive speech, says, “I’m glad I got caught up in it. I was in Jim’s class and he said ‘Oh hey, you should join, here’s all these things we’re gonna do,’ I saw, oh–we get to travel. I would like to join.”
The coaches also recruit talent outside of Las Positas. Wolde was recruited for her vocal performance in a high school production of Grease.
“Whatever the skill is that these students have, that’s what we want to bring out. We’re not jamming round pegs into square holes. We’re finding what works best for them,” Dobson said.
This year’s team comes from a diverse performing arts background, which they interpret in their speeches.
Wolde and Anonuevo’s duo interpretation about butts is the only duo they’ve encountered that incorporates singing, with songs like “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix a Lot. They’ve won first place in every open-division duo interpretation event they competed in.
“Sometimes judges are like ‘This is too much singing,’ but we think it’s fun…It’s prevalent because people know it,” Anonuevo said.
Talk Hawks Zac Furber-Dobson, related to coach Dobson, uses his high school acting experience in his events for poetry, dramatic interpretation and duo interpretation.
“A lot of the speeches that I do are completely acting-based, so they’re already written pieces of literature, poetry…It’s all pretty much acting that I’m doing,” Furber-Dobson said.
The Talk Hawks travel almost every other weekend to tournaments in and out of state. Anticipating their international tournament next year in Tokyo, speech students are saving up to afford the plane ticket, as the program has a tight traveling budget.
“We’re always asking for money,” Heisler said.
Despite difficulties with higher costs for a bigger team, the larger-than-typical team has paved the way for the Talk Hawks to compete in more competitive divisions.
“There’s different divisions like a small school, middle school and large school based on the entry. Right now, we want to try large school (division) even though we are a small school” Dobson said.
Their goal is to compete in the large school division at their national tournament in Washington D.C..
With the Talk Hawks continued success, almost all who are not graduating will stick around next semester, says Puranik. Not only do students improve their speaking skills–the Talk Hawks fosters a community that can last past graduation. Former members of the Talk Hawks come back to help the team as guest coaches.
“Being part of the team has helped me get enthralled in college as a whole. I have a group of people that I know and can talk to and hangout with. It’s easy to make friends on the team,” Furber-Dobson said.
The returning Talk Hawks, Fabien Silva and Klarissa Cuenca, only competed in one in-person tournament last semester.
“Once I saw what the competition was at nationals, I wanted to beat them,” Silva said.
At the end of this semester, the Talk Hawks are splitting up for two big tournaments in Los Angeles and New York.
For those interested in seeing the acclaimed Talk Hawks, they hold an at-home performance of all their events on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. on the main stage in the Barbara Mertes Center for the Arts.