College of Communication and the Arts Logo

Brownson Speech and Debate Team Earns More Accolades, Honors Past Alum  

a photo of the Brownson Speech and Debate Team

Members of the Brownson Speech and Debate Team, from left, Meg Gawron, Safa Shaikh, Dan O'Connor, Rin Jones, and Bryce Leatham.

This season the Brownson Speech and Debate Team, known for its tradition of rhetorical excellence for more than 75 years, hosted the esteemed Ed Leonard Memorial Tournament, after continuing its success at both the American Forensic Association District Qualifier and the Harvest Festival Tournament. 

At the American Forensic Association (AFA) District 7 Qualifier, held virtually on October 29, students Rin Jones and Bryce Leatham combined for five individual awards. Bryce Leatham placed second in Extemporaneous Speaking, which earned him an automatic bid to compete at the National Speech Tournament (AFA-NST) in Spring 2023. 

"The two-person team also earned fourth in team sweepstakes, quite an accomplishment with only eight entries total," said Head Coach Sam Ohrenberger-Hopkins, assistant director of Forensics, Brownson Speech and Debate Team. Leatham is a sophomore Diplomacy major while Jones is a freshman Biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

On November 5, the team then competed at the virtual Harvest Festival tournament hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The tournament attracted schools from across the country with representation from Oregon, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, and more. The team earned seven individual awards, with Meg Gawron, a senior in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, winning a championship in Dramatic Interpretation. Bryce Leatham and Rin Jones placed as runners-up in Persuasive Speaking and Program Oral Interpretation, respectively. Daniel O’Connor, a senior in the College of Communication and the Arts, earned third in After Dinner Speaking. The team placed second in team sweepstakes.

On November 12 and 13 the team also hosted its signature event, the Ed Leonard Memorial Tournament, in person for the first time since 2019. 

"We had the privilege of welcoming students from across the nation to Seton Hall’s campus to honor the legacy of Ed Leonard with messages of advocacy and community," said Ohrenberger-Hopkins. "Our community has been craving more in-person events and that has been reflected in larger registration numbers than usual, with 30% more entries than last year’s virtual tournament."

Across the two days of competition the team won 12 individual awards, including the top overall sweepstakes award on Sunday, November 13. Emily Vaca placed fourth in Dramatic Interpretation. Tristan Radcliffe placed fourth in Informative Speaking and third in Impromptu Speaking. Jordan Rabadi advanced to the semifinal round in International Public Debate. All three are freshman Diplomacy majors who were competing for the first time. They were joined by freshman Political Science and Philosophy major, Amos Willey.

The more seasoned members of the team also found success, with sophomore Bryce Leatham and junior Safa Shaikh winning championships in Persuasive Speaking and Extemporaneous Speaking respectively. Rin Jones also placed runner-up in Program Oral interpretation.

"This team has worked so hard to get to this point," said Ohrenberger-Hopkins. "Even more than their competitive success, I am proud of their commitment to community and advocacy. They are proof that doing speech the right way and treating peers with respect ultimately leads to the success we hope for."

"Congratulations to Cornell University who championed the tournament!" said Communication and the Arts Chair, Director of Forensics and Associate Professor Catherine Zizik.

Honoring Ed Leonard, a Notable Brownson Competitor

After graduating from Wall Township High School in 1983, Edward C. Leonard went to Brookdale Community College, where he earned his associate degree in communication. At the school, he was a disc jockey and assistant program director for their FM radio station, WBJB. 

In the summer of 1986, Leonard worked at the former WMJY radio station in Long Branch, doing news reporting and a weekly feature, "Beyond the Beach." He transferred to Seton Hall in September 1986 and joined the staff of WSOU-FM radio station. Despite a congenital heart condition, he was very active at the University. He started as a disc jockey and news reporter for the station, and eventually became news director in May 1988. He also joined the Brownson Speech and Debate Team, winning more than over 150 trophies in the three years he was there. He was the leading trophy winner for the team and a member of the Pi Kappa Delta Forensic Honor Fraternity.

After graduating cum laude with a degree in communication in 1989, Leonard decided to stay at Seton Hall and pursue a master’s degree. He was offered a graduate assistant position and was hired to teach English. Two weeks after he was hired, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 24.

"We felt his loss, not only the people on the team with him, but the faculty and even fellow competitors, people he took trophies away from," said Zizik in 1990, having served as director of Forensics at Seton Hall since then. "It was not only what he did for our school and our team, but what he did for the spirit of forensics."

The University hosted its first tournament in Leonard’s honor in November 1990. Seton Hall has hosted the Ed Leonard Memorial Tournament nearly every year since. 

"Perhaps Seneca the Elder had Ed Leonard in mind when he said, 'An orator is a good man who speaks well,'" commented Zizik this past week. "It was our intent to bottle Ed Leonard's ‘goodness’ at his tournament's namesake; it was a high-spirited event filled with happy faces and quality competition."

About the Brownson Speech and Debate Team

The Brownson Speech and Debate Team is known for its tradition of rhetorical excellence for more than 75 years. This forensics team competed in a wide variety of speaking events through the United States. While forensics typically refers to investigation, the term uniquely applies to the team's ability to dissect language and craft messages to perform on stage.

Students compete under four main categories: Limited Preparation, Public Address, Oral Interpretation of Literature, and International Public Debate. Students who compete in Limited Preparation perform Extemporaneous Speaking and Impromptu Speaking. Students who compete in Public Address perform After Dinner Speaking, Persuasive Speaking, Informative Speaking, and Communication Analysis. Students interested in Oral Interpretation compete in Prose, Poetry, Program Oral Interpretation, Dramatic Duo, and Single Interpretation of Drama. Students interested in International Public Debate argue either in favor of or opposed to a position and resolution.

For more information on Brownson Speech and Debate team, visit here.

Categories: Education

For more information, please contact:

  • Catherine Zizik
  • (973) 761-9759