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Talking Mules Capture Second Place for Overall Combined Sweepstakes in First Virtual Tournament of the Year

By Jeff Murphy, October 6, 2020

UCM Admin Building

WARRENSBURG, MO – Competing against some of the nation’s best collegiate speech and debate teams, the University of Central Missouri’s Talking Mules captured second place for Overall Combined Sweepstakes while earning 19 trophies in the Derryberry Season Opener virtual tournament hosted by Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, Oct. 2-3.


According to Jack Rogers, a professor of communication studies who serves as UCM director of forensics/speech and debate, the tournament attracted entries from 22 colleges and universities representing nine states. The Talking Mules defeated entries from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California (UC) - Berkley, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Kansas State University, Manhattan, just to name a few.


Standouts included the team of Lillian Rhodes and Gage Shrader who took first place in Public Forum Debate. Shrader also claimed the title of best overall speaker in the tournament, in addition to finishing first in Prose. Rhodes and Ryann Hill tied for Top Speaker honors in debate.

Other top participants include: Joshua Boster, third place in Dramatic Interpretation, and newcomer to the team, R.J. Appleberry, who was the Top Novice and finished fourth in After Dinner Speaking.


Rogers said all tournaments this fall will be hosted virtually (synchronous and asynchronous) due to COVID-19 travel restrictions that the vast majority of schools have imposed over their teams. He noted that navigating through COVID-19 in speech and debate presents other unique challenges, particularly as coaches must not only prepare students for competition, but also must now prepare them to compete online. This, he said, requires a slightly different experience and skill set for students to access.


This also presents technological challenges as not all students have strong internet, up-to-date computers, webcams, or headphones, Roger said. He added, however, the Talking Mules are rising to the challenge while also experiencing strong participation this fall with the team growing to 30 members.


“I'm always impressed with how the students rise to the challenge. Of course, they are an incredibly bright group of competitors with tenacity and drive. I think UCM is blessed in that all of our academic teams are really top notch. Just look to the recent successes of the Esports and Mock trial teams,” he said. “I really believe we have some of the best and brightest students anywhere and I would enter them in competition against anyone.”


Pleased with the Talking Mules’ first competition, Rogers noted, “I think this gives us all something to celebrate and cheer for in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. We rise no matter what the challenges that face us.”


The Talking Mules are getting ready to compete in their second event of the year, Oct. 9, as participants in a virtual tournament hosted by Kansas Wesleyan University. UCM will host the Missouri Mule Tournament virtually Oct. 16-17.


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