WKU Forensics Team debates across the country

Students of the WKU Forensics Team spend hours preparing speeches for tournaments and national competitions, their most recent outings taking place in St. Louis and DeKalb, Illinois.

Jon Sahlman, a senior from Modesto, California and a member of the WKU Forensics Team, said he transferred to WKU from Modesto Junior College largely because of the success of the team.

“[I] loved the coaches and team environment right away,” Sahlman said. “I knew instantly that WKU was where I wanted to be.”

A team of 15 traveled to St. Louis on Saturday and placed third in the overall team sweepstakes hosted by Webster University. The team faced off against schools including Boise State University, University of Alabama and Hillside College.

The next day, a team of 12 won the team sweepstakes championship at the MAFL 6 tournament held in DeKalb. The competitions consist of debates and individual events.

Sahlman, who earned co-champion in the Lincoln-Douglas debate, seventh debate speaker and semifinalist in extemporaneous speaking at the Webster University competition, discussed the effort the team’s competitors invest in their work.

“Our competitors spend long hours researching, memorizing, reworking and redrafting every aspect of their events,” Sahlman said. “We take practice very seriously.”

Freshman Claire Champagne from Lafayette, Louisiana and Director of Forensics Ganer Newman graduated from the same high school. Through Newman, Champagne discovered the Summer Forensics Institute the team organizes for high school students.

“I attended in 2015 before my senior year of high school and started getting recruited after that,” Champagne said. “I always practice all of my events at least twice in the days leading up to the competition. Tournaments require long days and constant energy, so I try to get a good night’s sleep before I compete.”

Both Sahlman and Champagne expressed a passion for competing in forensics.

“I love that it gives me a great platform to make my voice heard,” Champagne said. “I love traveling with teammates…traveling really allows me to get to know teammates I don’t know as well, and we always make memories wherever we go.”

“I love that forensics is an opportunity to spread messages,” Sahlman said. “There are topics that are controversial in today’s society … forensics humanizes these topics and gives people a space of expression.”

Traditionally, the team attends two national competitions, The American Forensics Association and the National Forensics Association Championships, but the team will attend a third national competition this year, according to Assistant Director Ben Pyle.

“AFA only allows 66 entries and we have an unlimited number of entries at NFA,” Pyle said. “We make the final roster for our nationals roster in March … and deliberate over which events are most competitive for the given region.”

There are 12 speaking events at the competitions, including debate, public address, limited preparation and interpretation of literature.

“At the most basic level, judges are looking for strong argumentation and evidence, vocal capability, physical poise and presence,” Newman said. “However, the activity is very subjective … we have to be adaptable … to maximize our competitiveness.”

According to Newman, students debate or perform their speeches or interpretation events in preliminary rounds and judges then decide a winner in each round. The students with the best ranks at the tournament advance to semi-final and final rounds.The time limit set for each speech typically ranges from seven to 10 minutes.

“Our coaching staff takes great care to plan well in advance when each student will travel for competitions throughout the season, and ensure that no student travels more than three weekends in a row,” Pyle said. “This way our students may prioritize their academic success and maintain a healthy balance with the rigors of college life.”

Passion drives the forensics team at WKU, according to Newman

“In addition to honing public speaking skills … students learn innovative ways to engage in civic issues,” Newman said. “More than trophies, I cherish how the activity encourages students to improve their communities.”

The WKU Forensics Team will hold a public performance Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the DSU auditorium.

Reporter Olivia Mohr can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]