Discussions about Seeking Equality in Speech and Debate continue to drive our Season 4 focus here on One Clap Speech and Debate. This episode features an interview with a true Speech and Debate celebrity - Ella Schnake, the 2019 NSDA Program Oral Interpretation National Champion! Ella graciously took time to drop by and discuss her Speech and Debate experiences, her powerful POI - "Debate Like a Girl," the reality of Gender Bias in Speech and Debate, and the unfathomable joy of a soft pretzel and cheese at a tournament.
Ella is a 3-time Middle School NSDA champion. She competed at Raymore-Peculiar High School, and currently competes at Truman State University. She was the 2019 NSDA champion in POI and a 2020 National semifinalist in POI. She was the Missouri State Champion in Storytelling in 2019. Ella has captured 9 collegiate Missouri State Championships as well as two Pi Kappa Delta National Top Superior championships in Impromptu and Interviewing.
It was truly a privilege to speak with Ella - an incredibly talented competitor, a super kind person, and an outspoken advocate for equality in Speech and Debate. Many thanks to Ella for coming by One Clap to share and for spending so much time advocating for equity in our Speech and Debate community.
In case you haven't seen Ella's National Championship Winning 2019 POI, check it out here:
Transcript of Interview with Ella Schnake
(there are some errors in the auto-transcript, & I will continue to edit as I have time):
Lyle Wiley: So, welcome to the One Clap speech and debate podcast, Ella Schnake. I'm super excited to have you here. Thank you so much for being here.
Ella Schnake: Well, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to get to talk about important issues and kind of dig in a little bit. And I love talking speech and debate. So thanks for having me.
Lyle Wiley: I'm thrilled to talk to you. Uh, but there's a couple of questions I've got to get out of the way right away that we ask everybody on the podcast. And one of them is on a scale of one to 10. How nerdy would you say that you are Ella?
Ella Schnake: I would probably put myself at a solid seven and a half, you know, like quite nerdy, but not quite my life is submerged in nerdiness, if that makes sense. You know, so I, I would say like 7.5.
Lyle Wiley: Cool. Yeah, we seem to be like building a definition of what nerd even means in a lot of ways, because everyone takes that to mean something very different, but a seven and a half. That's pretty solid. So how did you get into speech and debate? What's your like speech and debate superhero origin story.
Ella Schnake: Well, both my parents are speech and debate coaches. They also are their speech and theater teachers. So I kind of grew up around the activity, which was, uh, definitely an interesting experience. I have one story that sticks very well in mind. I think I was probably a fourth or fifth grader and my dad had taken me to a high school tournament with him and we had a student who had to leave early. She had gone to finals in poetry at our state qualifying district tournament. And she had to, for some reason, leave the tournament early. So my dad, I guess as somewhat of a joke, because everyone at the tournament knew that I was his kid, you know, I had been around and he sent me up on stage to accept her award for her and then she ended up winning the
district championship in poetry. And I just remember being like my tiny fifth grade mind was just absolutely blown. And I think I, I got, I felt like the coolest person alive, you know? And the crowd, of course they were, they were going wild probably because I was a kid and I was being a funny kid on stage.
But, I got hooked on that a little bit and then I was of course, chomping at the bit to join the speech and debate team in middle school. So I joined I was a part of my mom's team, so my mom was my middle school coach and my dad was my high school coach. So it's, it's a little bit of a family business around here.
And yeah, so that's how I, that's how I got started. I got started at a very young age and I watched my older brother go through and grow up in the activity as well. So he's very much an inspiration for me. But definitely the, the familial ties really submerged me in the activity from a very young age.
Lyle Wiley: What high school , were you competing at?
Ella Schnake: I competed for Raymore peculiar high school. It's about 30 minutes south of downtown Kansas city, Missouri.
Lyle Wiley: Well, so yeah, family, a family business, it sounds like you were sort of conditioned set up for the thrill of being in front of the crowd from a very young age, which is pretty cool.
So what have you competed in over those years? Middle school and high school. I know you're competing now too.
Ella Schnake: Yeah. I started off in middle school doing, HII and impromptu speaking. Those were my main events. And then I did a little bit of duo in eighth grade. And, I did storytelling. I would always pick up storytelling for the middle school national tournament that we would go to in this in the summer. So I was very much, I considered myself like an interpreter through and through that was like the identity that I was choosing for myself. And then when I went to high school, I still did HII my first year. That was the season that I picked up debate as well. So I started off in policy debate as a novice. Then I tried out public forum for a little bit. And then I finally ended up in Lincoln Douglas and I did Lincoln Douglas all four years of high school. and then I didn't actually pick up POI until my sophomore year of high school. And I did POI. All three of those years, sophomore, junior, senior. Um, and I partnered that with storytelling. So storytelling was my other main event that I did, as well as Lincoln Douglas, of course. Um, and then coming to college, uh, poli is still an event in college, so I did POI this previous but I wanted to give myself an opportunity to kind of try a lot of different things out.
So just in college, I've done DI, impromptu, poetry, prose, duo POI of course, a little bit, a little bit of everything, and I've actually done debate a handful of times as well on the college circuit. So a little bit of everything, but my primary genre that I've done over the years is, is interp. And then debate.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah. That's a wide variety of different events. Um, it's cool that you're an L dear. I'm a big fan of LD. I think it's a really fun debate. However, in 2019, it was program oral interpretation that you were crowned the NSDA national champion for a piece that is just near and dear to many people's hearts.
That you're still a little bit famous. And rightfully so the debate, like a girl POI, which I'd really love to talk about that a little bit. Uh, first off, what was your inspiration for that specific powerful piece.
Ella Schnake: Well, I had the fortune of, um, the summer leading into my junior year. Cause I was, I was a junior when I did that piece. I got to work with Andrea Anbam who won oratory in 2014. She came from my high school, and she was a huge inspiration for me. So we were kind of collaborating on a lot of that, those beginning stages of the program.
She kind of helped me learn the process of narrowing to a topic. You know, you start with, what am I passionate about? That's always the first thing that I asked myself is like, what, what do I want to talk about? What's on my heart. Do I feel like people need to hear about, and for me that's always been, gender related issues have always been of the utmost importance to me in advocating for equity in whatever space that may be.
And, uh, I remember. You know Andrea and I were talking about it and I wanted to do something really personal and she knew I was, I was a debater. And we had kind of talked about public speaking more broadly, conceptually how,, frequently women are policed in public speaking atmospheres, and she just kind of offhand was like, what if we talk about debate?
And I remember at the time, I think. She was just wild for saying that, you know, no one thought. And I, and I talked to my dad about it and I was like, no way we could do a whole program about this, you know, there's that there's not going to be the literature for it. I mean, of course, like that's something that would be so personal and important for me and the experiences that I've had in that side of the activity, but I just didn't think it was possible.
You know, and then of course we all started kind of digging into the literature. And it was very much possible. And that was even something I ran into a lot throughout the season. Was people just being confused as to how I made a program that was legal from a, about a topic like that. But we were just floored to see how many things were already out there discussing this particular issue, like specific to the community.
So it definitely was kind of a combination. My personal interest, of course my experiences in debate. And then of course, this kind of offbeat idea that we just so happened to discover a whole world about once we started looking into it.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, for sure. And I mean, you integrate some political stuff into your speech that was just so apt and so timely. About the presidential elections. Really fit very beautifully, for the moment. What was it, what was it like to get the opportunity to share that with like such a huge audience in , so many different, young debaters impacting their lives, speaking to a community,
what was that like?
Ella Schnake: Oh, my goodness. That was probably the single coolest moment of my life so far. Um, I was a little bit overwhelmed with how incredible that opportunity was. I never, you know, I was the first interpret from my school to ever make the final stage. You know, Andrea was the only person who had come from us before and she finally in public speaking.
And so to, to even be on that stage in the first place was just huge. Right. And then you add this layer on top of it. That's like I get to talk about something. Really going to hit home for, for people in the audience. Hopefully, hopefully of course, it's a little bit risky talking about it. Um, and I had, I had run into, there were a few instances I can think of where I ran into people who really thought I should not be talking about this.
And so of course that creates a little bit of anxiety in the back of your mind before you go onto a stage that big, you know, how is this message going to be received? But I had a few conversations in the lead up to being on the stage with people ranging from like fellow competitors to, you know, I was backstage and there was a tournament official who stopped me cause she knew that I was, um, she knew what my program was about before I performed.
And she told me, you know, I was the only woman on my debate team when I was in high school. I think what you're talking about and what you're going to say is really cool. And it was people like that. Who really, when, when the nerves were getting to me, when the stress of am I, is this going to be received properly?
When that was. Beginning to overwhelm my mind. I just tried to hold on to those conversations that I had with people, both at the national tournament and just throughout that whole season, leading up to that point. And I knew that I had to go out and do the peace justice and I couldn't let my own doubt stop me from communicating this thing.
Not only incredibly important to me, but incredibly important to so many people in the community. So it was, it was definitely those little, little bits and gifts that people gave me along the way that helped me feel empowered enough personally, to go out there and do the peace justice. But it was there's truly, there was no, no feeling like it feeling like I was.
Doing it for my school, doing it for myself and doing it for all of these other people. Right. Um, it, it was a gift.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, it was a really incredible moment. I mean, even when you watch it now, um, folks that were in Dallas that were watching, you can feel the energy of the crowd is different from the moment that you start your piece. It's, uh, it spoke to so many people. Um, and it definitely nothing it's not easy to talk about.
Right. It's something that we need to talk about in our. In our local communities and in our national community, but it's a difficult thing to talk about. I'm sure that you probably had did, and you've kind of spoke to this a little bit, but there's some reservations. Did anyone ever give you a hard time for calling out the community, uh, for gender bias?
Ella Schnake: Yeah, I would, there was one specific ballot that I remember getting, it was kind of early in the season and, uh, debater that.
Pretty recently graduated was one of my judges. And I remember, I think she gave me the two in the round and on her ballot, she wrote something about how, like, this was not her experience and that this was damaging. And that, that was one of the hardest ballots that I received. Because I didn't. Want to do an injustice to people in the community.
Right. I had to make sure that I was being consistent with what people's experiences were. And it really made me call into question whether my message was true and how my performance was reflecting that message. But, but the positive comments far outweighed anything like that, that I received. There was also my mom actually, when she was watching me, I think it was in semi-finals.
She told me about how there were a few people sitting behind her and in the specific part of the piece where I called out the school and the coach that had, had done these things, in the past. There were people behind her that were vocal saying, you know, that's not true, that shouldn't be said and like being negative vocally.
And of course they didn't know that my mother was sitting in front of them, but, and that, honestly, that just kind of fueled my fire more, right. Making me feel. I have to shed light on this and push even harder. And fortunately, I was given the opportunity to share it on the final stage after that happened, but those comments, other than that ballot, that, that came from a former female competitor in, in the debate atmosphere, those comments just kind of fueled me more, you know, making it, it feel like I, I had to talk about.
Lyle Wiley: I imagine that you under. I , it's, it's such a powerful, powerful piece, and it's amazing that you got to perform it on the national stage.
And you know, I'd really love to talk to you about interpretive, just like skills and stuff. At some point, maybe someday we can do that. But I really wanted to have you on today to talk about gender bias and equality and speech and debate a little bit. We're working on a series here and I'd just really love to get your ideas and feedback and thoughts about some of the questions that we're asking people on some of our panel discussions about gender bias and about your experiences.
So if you're comfortable going there today, I think we'll do a little bit of that. As a female debater and speaker competitor, where you taught differently than say guys, and what were some of the things you were taught that was maybe different?
Ella Schnake: I think. And of course my experience was a little bit unique because particularly on the speech side, my coaches were my parents. Right. So they weren't necessarily feeding me some of those tropes that we often hear about like coaches pushing on, particularly their female competitors to kind of police them, and prevent them from being competitively harmed because.
You know, something that they're doing in round, but I definitely did feel like there was an attitude on the debate side, at least on the circuit that I compete out. That particularly if you are a woman or a gender minority, that you should never do anything to suggest to the judge that you had.
Being aggressive in any form. Right? So no matter what, no matter what your mail competitor might be saying to you, no matter how they might be dealing with cross examination, that you just kind of have to try and somehow take that in stride and be this gracious voice of reason a minute. Yeah. And, and even saying that out loud, it's, it's just so ridiculous.
And yet that is absolutely the way that a lot of competitors have been taught to deal with it. And I mock that in the piece because that's something that I had said in round, right. Like, excuse me, can I please finish my points? It's just, it's just outrageous, right? That what we tell, female and, and non-male presenting competitors, how we tell them to treat their fellow competitors when they're being discriminatory or harmful in rounds.
And we're told that that even if they are being harmful, that we're somehow supposed to compensate for that, with this element of polite. And, and I, myself, like I was called the B word and around one time under, under a male competitors breath. So the, the judge didn't hear and, um, it was never something that was really addressed, but even something that is small, like that, that might not really affect the outcome of the round.
Like that affects you as a competitor. That makes you feel like you don't belong in this space. And so. While I might not have been told specifically, you know, that I have to speak like this or look like this. They're absolutely unspoken rules that I was still policed according to on ballots. Right. And, and this is not just on the debate side, but it's also on the speech side, particularly with the way that competitors present.
And look, you will. It is the unfortunate truth of the activity that we are held accountable for the way that we look in present. And there are people who look like they belong in finals, and there are people who don't look like they belong in finals and that, that affects the competition. And those are all those unspoken rules.
Right? Of course, it's good to. The outright coaches who might be saying and pushing these harmful ideas or other competitors who are saying and pushing harmful ideas, but the issue will continue to perpetuate until we address the unspoken policing of people in the community, both on the speech debate.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, you're speaking to this a little bit already, but, are there other ways that you think that gender bias manifests in the speech and debate community?
Ella Schnake: Yeah, I mean, of course the, the piece that I did mostly touches on, speaking specifically, right? The way that. Th th the way that individuals will try to drop their voices or control cross examination and how that differs based on what your gender identity is. But I already touched on it a little bit, but certainly, clothing, the way that you present and, how much money people are able to invest in clothing for the activity like that.
Absolutely factors in,, Hm. And also in the piece, the way that it creates power dynamics, that can be, abused against female competitors too. Like, the, the specific situation, of course, in the piece is talking about a male competitor who said that he would exchange a win for nudes. Right. And that, that transcends what happens in the round, right.
That, that. Something that is, there's so much bigger. It is the, it is insulting female competitors and, their existence beyond just, you know, interrupting them during their speeches or during cross examination. Right. And I actually, over the course of the season, I had one male coach who came up and talked to me because he had judged my POI in a round and he said, you know, I was a policy debater in high school.
I'm now a debate coach. And I was that guy. I was that guy in high school who, when I saw that I was going up against a female team and policy that I would be like, oh, thank God. Like I'm hitting a female team. Right. And he was. I'm glad that I can look back and see how terrible that was. Right. But that's absolutely something that perpetuates in the community.
Just the undervaluing of certain competitors immediately based off of their gender identity, no matter what they do in the round, right. We automatically assume are our implicit biases that affect the way that we perceive our other, our competitors, regardless of. How they choose to handle themselves in, in the competitive environment itself.
You know, so I think there's a, there's a lot of different issues that are factoring in here, both in and out of round. And, and there's an intersection of so many issues right. Of, of socioeconomic, identities and how, how that affects things and how, race affects things. And there's to ignore all of these other things is.
Undersell the issue. Absolutely. So I think it's a, it's definitely a layered problem and it has to have a lot of different strategies to address the inequity that.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, I think I, I'm going to ask you about some thoughts you have on some strategies we could try in our community, but, but first I think I'd like to ask what male competitors and coaches can do to best be allies to women in speech and debate.
Ella Schnake: That's a great question. I think that first and foremost. To be a good ally, to, um, gender minorities in the speech and debate community, you have to hold other people accountable, right? You have to recognize the privilege and the power that you hold in the space. And as soon as you see whether it's competitors
whether it may be you're in a judge position. As a judge, you have to take on that responsibility. How do I ensure that like my implicit biases aren't directly affecting this round, or if there's a male competitor who's being harmful and around how do we address that? And we don't, we don't let it just stop at the ballot.
Right? The ballot of course is incredibly important. And, and as a male judge or a male coach, I think that. Not letting those strategies continue to be competitively successful is of course a really important step because it's a competitive activity. So as soon as something stops being competitively advantageous, there's going to be a lot less of an incentive to perpetuate these harmful ideas.
And harm other competitors. So, so that's step one is holding other people accountable, whether it's through the ballot or whether it's through other means, having conversations with your team being proactive. and then just, just listening to the experiences of people in the community, particularly women and gender minorities, when, when you have a competitor, whether that's your teammate or whether that's your.
Discuss these issues with you. You have to act on that, you, you are being put in a position where no longer are you able to be silent about it, and you need to be stepping into a supportive position. So whatever that competitive. Is asking from you, you have to be prepared to support them in that and be an advocate for them and amplify their voice in whatever means they deem necessary to address the issue.
So I think it's a, it's a combination of listening, listening, first, holding people accountable. And
Being proactive on your team, having conversations about these issues with your team as a, both a teammate or as a. Or as a judge, to ignore the issue is to allow harm to occur. I think, you know, we shouldn't just address it once it's already happened.
We have to nip it in the bud right away. If we're going to have any chance of eradicating and even eradicating, it's probably never going to be fully possible, but of limiting the effect that these issues have on the committee.
Lyle Wiley: Do you think that NSDA should do more to address concerns about inequality in speech and debate, gender bias and racism? I mean, I know they're doing a lot, but do you think that they should be doing more?
Ella Schnake: Yeah, I do. And I think that the thing is that we will probably never, we will never get to a place where we will finally be. Say we have a radicating sexism or we have eradicated racism and speech and debate, right? So it is an ongoing process. It is a choice that we, as competitors and judges and coaches have to make every single day when we are functioning in the speech and debate community, it is a choice that we have to make to be active against these issues.
I think that while we certainly have come a long way and that's, that's evident in efforts that the, that the NSDA is trying to put into place. There are still countless stories that could be addressed and need to be addressed, right. With real policy and change within the organization. I follow.
A group on Instagram called diversity and forensics, and they do a lot of really great work and they publish stories that are sent to them, by different competitors and coaches and people just within the community. And I think even with. Educating yourself by looking through those stories, you, it is clear that there is work to be done.
There's work to be done, to make it even more accessible. And because we live in a society where we are constantly growing and evolving and changing and recognizing needs and discovering other new needs, right? Like we will never be done. The work will never be done. And that can be a little bit discouraging.
I don't think it should be. I think it should be a recognition that this is indeed a process. It is a process that we have to actively choose to participate in. You know, we have to choose to talk about it and learn about it. If we're going to have any chance of ensuring that it is truly an activity that everyone can access.
And that, that is of course, That we have, that we are the most inclusive as, as inclusive as humanly possible, so, so to, to people listening, like I would definitely encourage if you haven't been trying to read those stories and listen to those stories, like do that, because if you don't think that these issues still exist, they absolutely do.
And reading those submissions. Might change your mind if you think that we are already at a place where we can just be kind of stationary about, about.
Lyle Wiley: So you mentioned there's a lot of hurdles for some people, socio hurdles, of course, other racial and, and gender hurdles. Do you have any other ideas about how we can make the activity more inclusive? I mean, there are definitely some problems in our community with making sure that it's available to everyone and that everyone has the opportunities to succeed at the highest levels in our activity.
Ella Schnake:Yeah, I think first of course we have some practical things that we can do to address the issues. Right. So I was just actually reading about, a story about how a disabled person who attended to him. I was talking about how they did not have access to what they needed to be able to efficiently get from round around.
And it, there were a lot of issues that were created for them. And that's something that the NSDA should be able to address, like right away. It's just a matter of calling attention to it and saying, you know, this is something that we need that is going to make it more accessible. So there are some practical, logistical things that we can address.
And then I think there are other longer term things that we can do to make sure it's an inclusive space. And one of those things, I think. Uh, content warnings, right? We've seen content warnings have emerged as a real means to address inclusivity and preventing people from becoming triggered in rounds.
And how do we accommodate people and their needs? There's some other actions that we can definitely take that wouldn't really be that hard to logistically implement that might help with those issues. Right. I've been involved in a lot of conversations talking about how maybe we, have competitors submit.
All of their content warnings ahead of time. And then those are included and competitors can maybe like code out essentially for certain content warnings or judges can code out for certain content warnings so that we're protecting people in our community, broadly. Right? Cause it shouldn't just be limited to protecting competitors.
We have to protect judges too. You know, judges are what makes the activity go around. So we really need to be sure that at all levels, that we are doing what we can to ensure that we have, an inclusive space for people in our community. And I think that certainly what the NSEA is doing about like judge training and trying to say to judges, because I was a judge at nationals this year, you know, so I saw those materials that they were putting out to judges.
And I think that, uh, that that's great. Right. That's, that's really good that we're having. Kind of sensitivity trainings and what to put on your ballot, what not to put on your ballot and how to, how to deal with competitors and different situations that you might run into as a judge and handle those appropriately.
But I think, and this is, I don't want this to sound pessimistic, but there's always more work to be done. There's always going to be, um, how do we, you know, we have this judge training, but how do we really ensure that this. Getting across to judges and the judges are actually engaging in it. There's and there's some practical problems with, how do we make sure that they're not just like clicking through the lessons and not actually listening to it.
Right. So how do we make sure that we are not only providing resources for judges to be able to operate. To training and education, but that we are making sure that that training is actually happening, you know, and I don't profess to have all the answers, but I think that's definitely something that we can definitely do to address.
Um, and that goes for all issues of equity, right., in speech and debate. So addressing practical problems and addressing content warnings and then judge training. I think those are just three of many strategies that we could implement to make sure that we have an inclusive space and, and of course, providing more resources to chapters for speech and debate team.
We'll always be a good thing, you know, encouraging schools to have conversations about these things. And if a coach is not really in the situation, how do we get those resources to students so that students can, for like student led teams, how can they ensure that they are, addressing these issues?
You know, just not only making it widely available, but really doing the up on, are these being used. You know, are they being useful to people in the community?
Lyle Wiley: That's some, some great stuff. Some really good thoughts. So I want to circle back just a little bit though. Do you think that girls, that they gain something from speech and debate that boys don't
Ella Schnake: I don't think it's necessarily that girls gain something that the boys in the activity don't, but I do think that the activity is affording things to women and gender minority. That particularly those marginalized groups might not have access to in other spheres of life.
Right. So, and, and of course, I think about a lot of things, in terms of the speech side, but this goes for both the speech and debate side as a woman myself, right. I get access to. Whether it's in a speech round 10 minutes, or maybe an advocate round seven minutes, whatever it might be of, you have to be in this room and give me this platform.
And that is such a gift truly. And that doesn't mean that they will always be listening to you. And that doesn't mean that they will internalize what you are saying, but it does mean. That you are saying, I am here and I am going to take this opportunity to do this. If for no one else, I'm doing this for myself.
And I'm taking up space as a human being and I'm taking up space in a way that I might not be able to take up space in other parts of society because they, they don't give you. 10 minutes of uninterrupted, uninterrupted time, to talk about things that you're passionate about. So I think if nothing else, there is a difference there in that for just 10 minutes, I get access to a platform.
And I might not get access to that platform anywhere else. So that's, I think something that maybe. In terms of this question, girls might get that other people might not recognize as such a gift, right? Because that might not be something that they struggle with in the rest of their lives. You know,
Lyle Wiley: Absolutely. That's a great point. Do you, uh, and I'm sure you get this, sometimes some younger folks, younger girls who are thinking. Doing speech and debate or they see what you did.
And they're like, this is really cool. If they're considering joining speech and debate, what are some things you might tell a young.
Ella Schnake: Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is no matter what happens competitive. No matter, no matter your success or, you know, what, what judges might write on ballots or what teammates might say to you, you have to hold on to doing it for yourself to some degree, right? There's something beautiful in taking this opportunity to just say something that you want to say and just do it for you.
You know, that's not an opportunity that you get in a lot of spheres of life. So no matter how tough the road gets, like don't lose yourself. And the joy that you personally get from talking about things that are important to you. And then the second thing I would say is no matter how difficult the journey might be. How tough the road gets don't stop. You know, we will never make progress unless we continue to be present and take up space as much as is within our capability, of course. And that doesn't mean breach your own mental health or anything like that in favor of being an advocate. But if you can, and if you find joy in it, keep going and know that there are people who are hearing you, even on the tough days, there are people that are hearing you.
It might just be one person, the entire tournament that you touch. But I guarantee that every time you speak there is value in that. I am hearing you, I am listening and I am actively seeking ways that, that we can make the community better for you. And I have a lot of admiration for the work that I see all of you doing. Yeah.
Lyle Wiley: I think that's a message. A lot of people need to hear. So I think we can give you a break from some of this heavy stuff for a second. Let's talk about what you've been up to since that 2019 national championship moment. So. We were kind of on lockdown for your senior year, I think probably cause that would've been Dallas in the year after.
So that was probably an interesting year. And you're currently competing. But tell me about your life since then, what what's been going on with you.
Ella Schnake: Yeah, well, I, um, of course I competed all of my senior year. I did the virtual nationals. I've made it to semi-finals and that was really cool. I took seven. So that was all, a great experience. It w it was a great experience. Um, The world falling apart. Um, so you know, you know, that that is what it is, but, I'm in college, I go to Truman state university up in Northeastern, Missouri.
I'm studying political science and international relations and sociology. And French, I have a French minor, so a little bit on the side and. Yeah, like you said, I'm competing. I compete for our team here at Truman and it has been such a fascinating journey going from like being in high school and trying to find myself as a collegiate competitor after all of that, after all of the pressure that I was putting on myself and how do I continue to find joy in the activity that I've been doing now for eight years?
And how does. Stay fresh for me, those were all new challenges, you know, and, and new challenges bring new experience and new education. So that's kinda what I've been up to is navigating that change from high school to collegiate forensics, and discovering my voice in new events. Right. I mentioned that I did impromptu in middle school, but I actually, for the last two years, I've done impromptu at the collegiate level.
A little bit fallen in love with the event. I mean, it's a little bit hard to fall in love with him, prompt you. Cause those, those limited perhaps are always stress inducing, and I've, I've been doing really well in them. I, I ended up, placing as the top superior champion at the PI capital to national tournament and impromptu.
So that was really cool. You know, finding that I'm not just this. One isolated identity that I've tried to put myself in a box for so many years. And that's, that's definitely been part of my transition is learning about myself in other aspects of the activity beyond just as, as an interpreter in here as my inter box.
And here is my debate box and they never mix and there is some space in between here. So, so yeah, that's kind of in what I've been up to. I've worked a job for a political campaign. So I do, I've been branching out my advocacy into a lot of different realms. You know, I, of course I do advocacy work like with the campaign and I'm still an advocate in the speech and debate community and trying to, to just be an active vocal person about things that I care about. So that was a little bit about what I've heard about.
Lyle Wiley: Awesome. Well, what's, I mean, like, obviously you've got your life totally together at this point, so you can tell me exactly. You can tell them exactly what's next for you.
Are you thinking about getting into education at all? Like do you want to coach.
Ella Schnake: okay. So I love, I love this question because everyone, literally everyone in my immediate family as now, my older brother is also a speech in theater education. So everyone in my immediate family is speech and theater educator. So there's always been a little bit of an expectation that that would be maybe the path that I take with my life.
And I think I would be so thrilled. I do some coaching currently, just a little bit here and there, but then of course I'm also like taking care of my own business, putting together pieces, and that is no small feat either.
We'll see where the wind takes us. But right now the plan is to go to law school. I'm, I'm looking to maybe work in potentially like environmental law or maybe immigration law or family law, something that I feel like I can continue tapping into my voice as an advocate for people, and also like challenge myself academically.
And I think. Doing something like that would allow me to tap into a lot of the things that I've loved about speech and debate for so many years. But then of course, I still get to keep the activity in my life a little bit I will never ever be able to separate myself from the activity because nor do I want to for the record.
But my brother being a coach, of course,, and my. Being coaches, like it will always be a part of my life and I will always continue coaching as much as humanly possible, whether that's in an official capacity or an unofficial capacity, I, I love working with students and, and helping guide students to finding their passions.
It's, it's a beautiful process and being, seeing both the competitor side of it and now the coaching side of it and the judging side of it has, um, Sparked a lot of joy for me, so to speak and given me a new perspective on the activity that I think some people, um, don't don't get to see, and, and I would not trade that for the world so I can guarantee that it will always be in my wife, whether that's in a professional capacity or not.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to put pressure on you. I didn't, I
Ella Schnake: no, no, you're good.
Lyle Wiley: you're surrounded by it and you get the question but, uh,
Ella Schnake: It's it's, it's a thought that creeps into my head every other day. I'm like, you know, do I want to do I want to ditch pre-law and, and be a coach? Like that would be fun. Cause it would, it would be fun.
Lyle Wiley: Uh, you know, it's tricky as a coach and a teacher, you find people , that have a interest or a passion for helping young people. I mean, you at least got to encourage people, so I encourage you to do whatever's best for you. Um, but, uh, you touched on this a little bit already, but how has speech and debate impacted you as a person, in terms of what it's taught you and in terms of how it's made you. what's its impact been on you.
Ella Schnake: Yeah, I've learned so much from my going on. I think 10 years in the activity now. The first thing, I think the, the activity taught me because of course I've gone through kind of phases as an, as a competitor, over the course of my life. The first thing it taught me was how beautiful performances,
as a middle schooler, making people laugh in HII rounds. Like that was just, that was such an incredible feeling and seeing how valuable. Not only entertainment, but, but just performance in general is as a, as a medium to share an experience with other people. That is so incredibly valuable. And I will never stop thinking that for the rest of my life because of what the activity taught me, particularly as a young competitor.
Th the value of the arts and performance and, and sharing these things with other people and getting to talk about what you're passionate about. So that I think was the first lesson I learned in the activity is that there is beauty, whether it's a speech about something that you are advocating for, or even if it's just pure comedy.
Like there is value in both of those things and we should not undersell any of them. Then I think the activity taught me how to be a competitor. Of course you are. Anyone who's been in the activity for a long time has, has been humbled by their experiences as a competitor and had to learn how they wanted to navigate those challenges.
The first time that you get a ballot where a judge is just ripping into you, that is not a good thing. But it is a feeling that everyone who sticks with the activity will feel at some point. And you have to learn, you have this choice at that moment. When you get about this, that discourages you, you have to choose.
Is this it for me? Am I, am I not going to do this anymore? Or am I going to take it with grace and learn? And grow and find joy in it beyond the competitive success. How do I want to treat other competitors? How do I want to be treated and how can I just be the best version of myself competitively that I can be.
And, and that, that is a lesson that transcends. Just speech and debate or just competitive activities, right? Like life, life is competitive. So learning how to be a good competitor, a good sport, be a gracious winner and a gracious loser. Those are all incredibly valuable. And I think, especially during like my high school years, those were the lessons that I was learning a lot.
And then I kind of transitioned into learning about myself as an artist. And finding value in my voice, even if that wasn't going to be the most competitively successful thing. Especially after winning in 2019, I had to learn how to. Do it for myself and find joy in the art again, beyond the competition, beyond being a good competitor.
How can I embrace this opportunity as an artist and, and just take up space for me, right? Cause that's, that's a beautiful thing that the activity gifts you, Is just finding yourself, regardless of if that thing that you're doing is going to get you the one, and finding security in what you are performing, regardless of what people think about it.
You know, every time you get a, once you learn that lesson, every time you get a hard ballot, of course, you, you try and learn. From it, whatever you can. And that doesn't apply to like discriminatory ballots or harmful balance or anything like that. Right. That's not what I'm talking about, but you try and learn, but at the end of the day, you just find satisfaction in the art for yourself.
And knowing that you're saying something important that is on your heart that you want to share with. So that's been, that's the lesson that I have been learning recently is how to view the activity beyond just a space for competition, right? As a space to share and grow and be an artist, or be a speaker, be an advocate, whatever you want from the activity, how to harness that.
And, and look beyond getting the one or getting the.
Lyle Wiley: So, I mean, you've, you've shared a lot. Great. Um, but is there anything I always like to give everyone an opportunity, if there's anything else you want to share about your experience with the speech and debate community with, anyone who's listening?
Ella Schnake: I I've said a lot. I'm a talker. If you couldn't tell, but. But, um, I would just say that there is no other activity that has given me avenues for growth, like this one. And it's really something that we have to cherish and cherishing. It doesn't mean that we don't criticize it and that we don't try to make it better.
Right. I think that being critical is a part of loving the active. And, and, and to kind of bring it back to, you know, why I'm here. I wanted to make sure that the, with that piece, that it didn't come off. Like, I didn't love the activity. I was saying what I was saying about equity in the activity because of how much I love the community.
And I love what the activity has given me, and I want it to be available. For everyone. And I want everyone to get access to the kind of treatment that they deserve within the community. So, so I would just say that my experience in my advocacy has always been based off of love for the activity.
And, and so I appreciate everyone who has. Given me fuel along the way by sharing their stories. , because that has carried me through the hard days and, and helped me continue to work in my love for this community in this activity. And, and I, I see the, my fellow advocates and all the work that they're doing, and I appreciate, and I see the love that they have as well.
And the way that this. I want to make sure that it's a space that can be shared with as many people as possible, because we see how much we've gotten out of the activity. And that's something that has to be available to everyone. You know, there's nothing like it.
Lyle Wiley: It's beautiful. I agree with you 10000%.
Ella Schnake: Thank you.
Lyle Wiley: We haven't talked about the most important thing. That's food at a speech and debate tournament. Um, I would like to close out with this super important because people have some strange answers to this, but, at a tournament or maybe it preparation for a tournament, maybe when you're up really late working on, uh, your pieces or evidence or practice in general, what's your go-to speech and debate style.
Ella Schnake: Ooh, this is probably a silly answer, but, I it's hard having as much. As I often do around competition to, you know, stomach things. And so I find that that protein bars are a really good snack. Cause when you just can't bring yourself to eat fun food, it's like, I need sustenance and this will maybe tide me over for a little while.
But when I'm having, when I, when I'm maybe a little bit less stressed, Ah, the pretzels in my life that have had, or not the pretzels, the tournaments in my life that have had soft pretzels, I would like to thank those tournaments because there's nothing better in this world than like a soft pretzel and cheese at a tournament.
Like that is so good. But those are not always accessible. And I guess a protein bar will suffice in the, in the meantime. So pretzels in my life.
Lyle Wiley: Yeah, I think that, but see that, that points to the importance of this question, it's really about the pretzels that you met along the way, you know?
Ella Schnake: Exactly. Exactly.
Lyle Wiley: Well, I wish you many soft pretzels with you. You say you get them with cheese
Ella Schnake: I do no salt, no salt, but cheese. Right? Salt and cheese too much. No salt.
Lyle Wiley: Well, may you always find the soft pretzel and the cheese that you deserve. Hey Ella, thank you so much for your time for your advocacy, your voice, your courage to speak in this community. And thank you for speaking to me. I really appreciate it. I'm sorry if I fanboyed out a little bit, I try to be professional, but I'm a super big fan of you and everything that you've you've done. And I just, I can't wait to see what you do next.
Ella Schnake: well, thank you. And thank you for having me and doing this series and having the conversations that we need to be having. It's it's really great work.
Lyle Wiley: Thank you so much, Ella.
Be on the lookout for these upcoming episodes:
Riverton competitor Carolyn Benn-Thornton talks about the importance of Humor and her semifinalist run at NSDA Nationals… Our second panel made up of YuYu Yuan, Haley Lauze-Reyes, and Leila Sandlin consider Being a Racial Minority and a Woman in Speech and Debate… Natrona County HS superstar and 2022 WHSFA Ambassador Zoey Pickett stops by to discuss Extemporaneous Speaking and female leadership… and more!
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