Spring 2002 6. No. 3

Well-spoken:  Art of Debate & Speech


By Kevin Drzakowski

For many, the term "forensics" conjures up images of clues at a crime scene, but Truman's forensics program is all about
competitive speaking.

As early as 1880, the power of speech was a virtue recognized at the school now known as Truman State University. Joseph Baldwin, then president of the Kirksville Normal School, encouraged oratorical contests as a means of improving the verbal skills of his students. However, Baldwin discouraged contests between students, believing that they were counter-productive to the development of a cooperative campus community. Therefore, the art of organized debate did not make its debut at the Normal School until near the turn of the century.

  John R. Kirk believed that debating was one of the most useful skills a teacher could possess, and when he took the reins of the school, debating began to flourish on campus. Kirk sponsored the organization of student-organized debating clubs, and participation in these clubs soon became the chief extracurricular activity on campus.

In 1910, the Inter-Club Debating League was formed. This quickly led to debates between the Kirksville students and the other teachers colleges in the state. The Missouri Association of College Debate was organized in 1927. The association's name was then changed to the Missouri Association of College Speech Directors, and Missouri began hosting annual tournaments in oratory and debate.

From its inception on campus, competitive speech has continually been a source of recognition for Truman State University. Now, the forensics team has grown more successful than ever, due to the incredible dedication of both its coaches and members.

Students on their script for dramatic duo.Students on their script for dramatic duo.Students on their script for dramatic duo.

Abby Swetz (left) coaches Nate Dendy (center) and Amy Carmack (right) on their script for dramatic duo.

Reaching New Heights

The forensics program on campus has grown tremendously in the past few years. The team's two coaches are both recent additions to the program, and their arrival has brought an invaluable amount of experience and success. Kevin Minch was appointed director of forensics in August of 1999, and Todd Holm was appointed assistant director of forensics in August the following year. Under their leadership, the team has reached new heights that make them the envy of collegiate forensics teams across the nation.

The Truman forensics team participates in a total of 11 events in two different kinds of competition, individual speaking and debate. There are nine separate individual speech events. Four of these are deemed platform or public speaking events. Impromptu speaking and extemporaneous speaking are both categories in which the students must prepare their material based on a topic they receive at the event. While extemporaneous speaking focuses on current events, impromptu speaking features students speaking on topics typically of a proverb nature.

Informative speaking is an event in which the students present a prepared original, factual speech, while persuasive speaking is a similar event in which the students aim to inspire the audience to accept their material. In after dinner speaking, students present an original humorous speech, while in the communication analysis event the student evaluates a communication event such as a public speech or film.

There are also five oral interpretation events. In prose interpretation, the student reads from a published literary work, while in poetry interpretation the student reads a published poem. Dramatic interpretation features the student presenting a monologue from a play or film. In program oral interpretation, the student presents thematically linked material from two separate genres out of the three present in the other three interpretation events. Dramatic duo is the only event in which two students participate as a team; the students present a scene from a play.

In addition, the two debate events are parliamentary debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate. In parliamentary debate, there are a pair of two-person teams pitted against each other, with one team representing the "government" and the other representing the "opposition." Normally, the government side favors change while the opposition does not. The Lincoln-Douglas event is a debate between two individual students, one presenting the affirmative side of a motion and the other the negative side. Lincoln-Douglas debates tend to center around issues of public policy.

Many schools keep their debate and speech teams separate, but Minch feels that Truman benefits significantly from fielding an overall program rather than two separate ones. "It makes us a little more well-rounded," he comments, "and it enables the students to compete in both halves. Most of the tournaments we attend are structured so that you do all those different events and both kinds of debate."

The forensics team competes nearly the entire school year, beginning their season in mid-September and ending it in April. The team holds formal practices three nights a week, as well as individual coaching sessions for the students during the day. This year, the team traveled to 18 tournaments.

The tournaments themselves vary in structure. Most are two to three days, usually Friday to Sunday. Students usually compete in two preliminary rounds in the individual speech events, in addition to a final round that the students qualify for based on their performance in the preliminary rounds. Debate usually consists of six preliminary rounds followed by a number of single elimination rounds set up in brackets like those seen in a sports tournament.

Competitive Success

The Truman State University Forensics ProgramThe Truman State University Forensics Program captured the overall Missouri state forensics championship for the second consecutive year. (Left to right) Front row: Megan Gibbard, Shane Mullen, Brandy Stubbs, Nate Dendy, Julie Anderson, Kris Stroup. Middle row: Kevin Minch (director), Jaci Devine, Tyson Helder, Amy Carmack, Marie Tenny, Heather Carmack, Tyler Unsell, Jacob Stutzman (coach). Back row: Todd Holm (assistant director), Ryan Walsh, David Johnson, Matt Harms, Brian Amsden, Abby Swetz, Kris Kueker. Not pictured: Christopher Bell, Allison Atterberry, Summer Kirchmann, Ben Williams, Tony Matthews, Eric Null, and Robert Layne II (coaching assistant).

The forensics team at Truman has enjoyed a tremendous mount of success in recent years. Minch attributes much of it to the academic success of Truman students at large. "Obviously, when you have a student body like Truman has, you're naturally going to draw the kinds of students who will excel in an activity like this," he says. Minch also pointed to the fact that both Missouri and Kansas are hotbeds for high school forensics, and with a large number of students coming from those two states, the interest in forensics is likely to be higher than other universities nationally. Of the freshmen accepted to begin study at Truman next year, 390 expressed an interest in forensics. "We have a huge talent pool to work with," Minch says.

Of course, talent means very little unless that talent is developed. Fortunately, the students in Truman's forensics program share the enthusiasm of their coaches. Their success is attained through the countless hours of preparation put into each tournament. "The workload is staggering," freshman Nate Dendy acknowledges, but he feels that the effort is well-rewarded through the friendships gained with his teammates and coaches. "It sounds corny," he says, "but we're like a family."

The forensics team has won more than 300 trophies in the past year alone.Junior Heather Carmack agrees that the preparation involved is substantial, especially as tournaments draw near. On tournament days, she says the team members adopt a focus essential to their success. "On the van rides to the tournament, during a lull in the conversation, you can hear everyone whispering, practicing their speeches," says Carmack. She feels that this level of preparation has actually helped in her studies. "School is still the number-one priority for us," she comments. "Forensics has taught me to really prioritize."

Sophomore Abby Swetz feels that the competitiveness of Truman's program makes being on the forensics team even more enjoyable. "One thing that makes us a particularly strong program is the quality of our coaching and the amount of time we get to spend with them," she says. "It's pretty rare to be this competitive on both levels of speech and debate."

Kevin Drzakowski is a senior English major from St. Charles, Mo.



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