Dena Counts | Speech & Debate

dena counts

Communication Instructor and Director of Forensics

In sports, the transition from a solid playing career to a successful career as a coach is a rare and tremendous feat. The same can be said for Dena Counts, who won national awards as a competitor on ACU's Speech and Debate team, and is now coaching the team to national prominence.

ACU communication majors learn crucial skills and theories to connect with people in an ever-changing world. Dena Counts and her students talk about one innovative learning method in this short video.

This season, Counts, an instructor of communication and ACU's director of forensics, has two debate teams ranked in the Top 50 of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence standings, out of more than 500 teams nationwide. She has also maintained ACU's tradition of excellence in individual speaking events, coaching three competitors to the national tournament last year.

Counts' students often compete against schools much larger than ACU, with Texas Tech, The University of Oregon, The University of Colorado and UCLA being among the squad's fiercest competitors. Her teams have found success against these national powerhouses, but Counts' goals as a coach go far beyond wins and trophies.

"I have two goals. One is for the debate community as a whole to recognize ACU as a competitive, top-tier school for debate and forensics. Second of all, I have a goal that we be known as a community of competitors that are Christians, not by being Bible carriers, but by representing Christ with our actions," Counts says. "When other school's students see me or our competitors, they know that they will have an open hand and open heart to come to."

Attracting high-quality competitors

Part of Counts' success can be attributed to her ability to attract and maintain excellent competitors. Her top-ranked team, a pair of seniors, has been together for three years, and this year they lead the nation in wins. She also has a team ranked No. 49 in the nation in just their first year of debate.

"I get asked by other coaches how I get such great students. They answer I give them is I pray a lot," Counts says. "We try to get students who are intellectually capable to debate, but who are also humble enough to commit to their partner and me as a coach and to ACU ideals."

When Counts isn't out leading her teams to victory, she is in the classroom, where she shares her passion of knowledge and communication with her students.

"I love being in the classroom. I love taking theory and philosophy and translating that into something practical. It's very practical in students' lives. I typically tell students on the first day of class that every class they will take something they can use immediately in their worlds," she says.

For Counts, the desire to teach and coach forensics is driven by a value for relationships and a chance to make a difference in her students' lives.

"The relationship that professors have with students at ACU is unique," she says. "The mentoring that goes on between them and the call to be Christ like makes a big difference on this campus."

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Speaking on the Square
ACU Communication majors learn crucial skills and theories to connect with people in our ever-changing world.
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