Moorpark College Forensics scores gold at in-person national tournament


Trophies won by the Moorpark College Forensics team are displayed in the performing arts center. The team won several awards on April 9, 2022 at the Phi Rho Pi national tournament in St. Louis, MO. Photo credit: Shahbano Raza

By Shahbano Raza and Jane Walgren

Moorpark College’s Forensics team received several awards at the 2022 Phi Rho Pi National Forensics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri.

The team won gold and placed second overall by attaining group and individual accolades based on their performance during the five-day speech and debate tournament which began on April 4.

Throughout the year, Moorpark College’s Forensics team competes in several tournaments against other schools in and outside of their region. Later in the year, the team competes in a statewide competition and eventually, the national Phi Rho Pi tournament. At these tournaments, students can compete in a wide array of events including Debate, Dramatic Interpretation and Extemporaneous Speaking.

Historically speaking, Moorpark College has had unparalleled success at nationals. They have won first place 11 times and never ranked below the top eight. The national tournament has only ever been canceled three times in its nearly 100-year history, two of which were during World War II and the third cancellation was in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year’s nationals and the tournaments leading up to this year took place virtually. Rolland Petrello, Moorpark College Forensics program director, spoke about the comeback from the virtual competition and how unique it was for the team to meet in person for the first time.

“The team met each other at the airport,” explained Petrello. “Normally by the time we get to nationals, everybody on the team are best friends, they’re family. So it’s that aspect I’m looking forward to getting back to normal again.”

At this year’s Phi Rho Pi, members of the team received recognition for their collective win and their individual accomplishments throughout the tournament.

Moorpark College’s forensics team poses for a picture on April 9, 2022. The team received several awards at the Phi Rho Pi national forensics competition in St. Louis, MO. Image provided by Moorpark College Forensics.

Moorpark College Forensics team member Nicole Castro spent three years on the team and this national tournament was Castro’s final tournament with Moorpark. Castro spoke about the ever-lasting impact the team has left on her and the importance of using her voice.

“We only have one voice to give, and me being trans and being on this team, I’ve had the full support of the coaches and my teammates,” expressed Castro. “Our voices aren’t normally thought of, you know, we’re not heard as much as we should; but I feel like my voice has been heard and I understand the power of my voice.”

This year, Castro finished her journey on the team with exceptional success after winning three gold medals for her performance in Debate, Extemporaneous Speaking and Impromptu Speaking.

Another team member, Annie Palazzolo, was encouraged to join the team by her communications professor. At nationals, Palazzolo achieved silver in Speech to Entertain and bronze in Communications Analysis.

For Palazzolo, joining the team not only gave her a platform to voice her opinions but also prompted her to be more self-assured.

“I think it made me more confident in myself,” Palazzolo said. “It made me open up more. It made me try new things.”

Theater major Kyle Kaplan also joined the team after being recommended to do so by his communications professor. Kaplan expressed that success at events like nationals comes down to effort.

“My biggest takeaway is that your effort really shows,” Kaplan remarked. “It really shows that the people who put a lot of effort into their pieces, into their events, really are the ones who got the farthest. And it’s inspiring to see that.”

That effort was showcased at nationals by competitors like Jade Morrisey. Morrisey, also a theater major, won gold in Prose and silver in Dramatic Interpretation.

Morrisey and Kaplan found that speech and debate augmented their success outside of forensics. In their case, joining the team helped them with their acting.

“What was really fun about it was that there were acting sections and it was still for speech and debate,” said Morrisey. “But I got to be in performance mode and actually better my skills as an actor.”

Morrisey, Kaplan and Palazzolo plan on returning to the team this fall. They expressed that attending nationals in person contributed to that decision. After months of virtual practices and online competitions, the team finally had the opportunity to meet one another face-to-face and experience what forensics was like pre-pandemic.

“I’m very grateful that nationals was in person,” Morrisey asserted.

While others continue or even start their forensics pathway, Castro’s journey on the team has come to an end. However, Castro’s takeaways from the program show that she is not leaving empty-handed.

“For me personally, this team gave me motivation and self-realization,” explained Castro. “I think if there’s one thing to pull, it’s that our voices matter.”

This coming school year’s tournaments are expected to be in person. If interested in joining the team, contact the coaches listed on the Moorpark College Forensics home page.

**Shahbano Raza is the News and Government Desk Editor and Jane Walgren is the Breaking News and Broadcast Desk Editor of the Moorpark Reporter. They are members of the Moorpark College Forensics team. Raza attended this year’s Phi Rho Pi.