By Stephanie Garibay
For the second consecutive year, members of the East Los Angeles College speech team were awarded the national championship title in the 2016 Phi Rho Pi National Competitive Speaking Tournament for Community Colleges.
Nearly 600 students from more than 60 colleges across the United States competed in the tournament.
“I think what really helped us get through all of this was the fact that we are all really united. We’re like a family. With all the other schools, to me, it just felt like they’re not a family outside of speech,” Cheyenne Mendiola, speech team president, said.
Altogether, the team won seven gold awards and four bronze awards at the tournament.
“The tournament is kind of like a track and field event. We all have our own competitions and we get points depending on where we place, then all those points are collected and whichever school gets the highest points wins nationals,” Mendiola said.
ELAC defeated 44 other teams in the Hindman Division, as well as 10 other teams in the Wheeler Division, which is one level above.
Although they had won the championship title in 2015, the team did not go into the competition expecting to win again.
“Every year is new. Even though we won last year, this is a completely different year. So, we had to work hard to earn this. We went in there with a mentality of ‘OK, we know what we can do, now let’s show them,’” Mendiola said.
Since the team participated in competitions all season long, when it came to nationals, they were familiar with the opposition.
“We see the same people at all of the competitions we do. In total this season, we’ve done 14 competitions. In February, we had a competition every Sunday. These competitors know my routine just as well as I know my routine and vice versa,” Mendiola said.
While at a competition in New York, the team ran into some competitors that confronted them about “stealing” their trophies.
“They called our name out loud, and I remember looking back, and there was a group of around 10 students and they were lined up looking at us and then they said, ‘So you guys think you’re just going to come here take our trophies and leave?’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, we want to explore the city tomorrow,’ and that’s exactly what happened,” Thomas Martinez, vice-president of the speech team said.
Martinez and Mendiola credit experiences like these to bringing the team closer together, which is why the experience of being announced as the national champions hit a lot closer to home.
“I remember thinking, ‘Is this real?’ In the competition there’s two divisions, there’s a smaller division for schools who are competing in less than 15 competitions, and there’s the other division for everybody in general. And we actually won first place in both,” Mendiola said.
The team looks at advisers J. Edward Stevenson and Ryan Smith as the key to their success.
“We call J and Ryan, Yin and Yang. It sounds corny, but Ryan’s the mad scientist and J is the big organizer. With Ryan’s fierce training and with J’s mental organization, both of those put together and all of that other stuff, no one else has a J and no one else has a Ryan,” Martinez said.
For Mendiola and Martinez, this competition was an important one, since it will be their last year on the speech team.
“Before speech, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was inconsistent with school, but being on the speech team, it has definitely given me a voice. It’s given me a voice in my community,” Martinez said.