Debate team members freshman Nathaniel Turtel, junior Steven Custer, and sophomore Peter Seeley stand with junior Mary Blendermann, who took third in the informative speaking category at Bradley University. Matthew Warner | Courtesy
Debate team members freshman Nathaniel Turtel, junior Steven Custer, and sophomore Peter Seeley stand with junior Mary Blen­dermann, who took third in the infor­mative speaking cat­egory at Bradley Uni­versity. Matthew Warner | Courtesy

It was a speech tour­nament so big, the offi­cials took time during the awards cer­emony to note that they processed more than 5,000 ballots while judging speeches.

Despite the com­pe­tition, junior Mary Blen­dermann broke to the semi­finals in the infor­mative cat­egory for Hillsdale College’s speech team on Nov. 5th at the Norton Invi­ta­tional at Bradley Uni­versity in Peoria, Illinois. Coach Matthew Warner said it was the fall semester’s biggest com­pe­tition.

“Rel­ative to the rest of our schedule, the Norton Invi­ta­tional is one of the largest and most demanding tour­na­ments we attend and no doubt the most chal­lenging of the fall semester,” Blen­dermann said in an email. “The level of com­pe­tition is extremely high and an enormous number of com­petitors attend, making it much more dif­ficult to break to out­rounds.”

But Blen­dermann did break to the out­rounds with a speech on tran­scranial mag­netic stim­u­lation, or TMS, a treatment for autism. She said her speech for this com­pe­tition has remained mostly the same throughout the season.

“Recent research has demon­strated remarkable improve­ments in emo­tional pro­cessing in autistic people after under­going TMS, which reor­ga­nizes neural com­mu­ni­cation by stim­u­lating the brain with an elec­tro­mag­netic field,” said Blen­dermann, who is a psy­chology major. “TMS is unique because it’s both non­med­i­cinal and non­in­vasive — the elec­tro­mag­netic field is admin­is­tered using a mag­netic coil pressed against the skull — and it can be admin­is­tered while the patient is fully con­scious.”

All four Hillsdale team members per­formed in three cat­e­gories each. In the per­suasive cat­egory, junior Steven Custer per­formed a speech on abuse in the adult guardianship system, and sophomore Peter Seeley spoke on reforming the Trans­portation Security Administration’s no-fly list. Like Blen­dermann, freshman Nathaniel Turtel also com­peted in the infor­mative cat­egory. The whole team com­peted in impromptu, but Blen­dermann spoke in the program of oral inter­pre­tation cat­egory, while the others par­tic­i­pated in extem­po­ra­neous pre­sen­ta­tions.

“I really enjoyed com­peting at Norton because it pro­vides an oppor­tunity to measure your per­for­mance against the best com­petitors in the country,” Blen­dermann said. “It was really sat­is­fying to advance to semi­finals in that envi­ronment.”