By Lauren Rust
The forensics and debate team here at Hutchinson Community College will be put on haitus, or “a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process” at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.
The team is currently coached by head coach Kenny Hopkinson and assistant coach Jordan Christiansen.
Dr. Carter File, president of HCC, was a large proponent in this decision along with the academic department. “It really has to do in a lot of cases with numbers,” File said.
“The numbers have declined significantly over the last couple of years.”
“We just believe there’s probably a better opportunity to utilize those funds for other student organizations or for something else for students,” he said.
File and all of the individuals that were involved with the decision had a difficult time with it, knowing that it would affect both employees and students.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” he said. “We take great pain in doing this.”
Even though there is pain, the college will be saving around 130,000 dollars without the program in place.
Travis Roberts, former head coach, stated, “I really think that the decision was shirt-sided.”
“Due to only decreases in budget over my time there the team had to become smaller in order to travel and remain competitive,” Roberts said.
Roberts was assistant coach of the team for a year and then head coach for the next five years ending with the 2013-2014 school year.
According to Roberts, there was always interest in the team. “My last year there we had over 60 students interested in being on the team,” Roberts said.
According to Hopkinson, the program has also brought benefits to school.
“This program specifically has brought in students from across Kansas, contributed to students’ academic and personal success, and raised the profile of the school through being competitively successful nationally, “ he said.
“Additionally, the team has added to the college’s profile through working to be the first and only community college in history to host the American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) in 2013 which brought in thousands of competitors, coaches, and families from over 80 schools to our campus.”
Students have also used the program here at HCC as a springboard not only to four-year schools, but four year forensics programs.
“In the four complete years I have been coaching here, 18 students have continued full time on to four-year schools, nine on debate and forensics scholarships,” Hopkinson said.
One of those students who moved on to a four-year school with a forensics scholarship is Jahman Hill, who was a student at HCC from 2012-2014.
“I myself went from an ex-high school athlete with no clear future to a top scholar at the University of Alabama, where I am graduating this year on a full ride forensics scholarship,” Hill said.
As of last year, Alabama University is 8th in the nation for forensics. Hill contributes many of his connections and success to the forensics and debate program here at HCC.
“I’m a Middle East foreign policy specialist with friends who are CEOs of international non profit organizations, all thanks to Hutch,” Hill said.
“The team did more than gain trophies, they created futures, and it’s disappointing to see the college decide that these futures are no longer worth manufacturing.”
Students that are currently in the program also put their opinion in about the program being put on “haitus.”
John Colclazier, Greensburg, is currently in his second year in the program and believes that the program represents HCC well.
“In the last two years I can say with 100% certainty that our team as well as the forensics community on a whole embraces all of HCC’s values,” Colclazier said. “The one that it fits the best though would be “diversity,” which, as HCC describes it, “celebrates the uniqueness of individuals, ideas, and forms of expression.”
Colclazier also sympathizes with the individuals who will not be able to participate in the program.
“I regret that for the unforeseeable future that no one will be able to come to HCC and have forensics as a possible choice for them to express themselves as I have so gratefully been able to do for the last two years,” he said.
Another member, Shay Scott, Belleville, also sympathizes for the students who will not get to experience the benefits of the program. She also gives credit to the two coaches —Hopkinson and Christiansen — and all of their efforts.
“While the program being cut is devastating for us as a team, the real victims are two amazing educators having to relocate for work and most importantly future students who will never have the opportunity to grow in the ways only this activity can provide,” Scott said.
“This hurts the students, young voices, and even the economy of Hutchinson when you think of how much money has been poured into hotels and restaurants in town over the years.”
While the forensics and debate program will not be at HCC next year or in the foreseeable future, it is clear that the voices that were inspired by the program are still alive and ready for their next step.