In college one of my favorite shirts was my forensics team t-shirt – no, not the CSI kind of forensics: speech.
High school and intercollegiate speech remain near and dear to my heart. I competed in high school and was a member of Doane College’s first forensics team; in fact, a few years in, I became the first Doane College forensics team member to compete in Communications Analysis/Rhetorical Criticism. (Full disclosure: I was awful.)
Following college, I spent a few years judging high school and college tournaments as a side hustle. There were so many changes in those relatively short years since I had been in high school; even so, there were always repeat offenders. They weren’t necessarily bad or without merit – it’s just that forensics is about innovating, pushing the envelope and blazing new trails. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve judged an “Agnes of God” serious prose, or a persuasive speech concerning abortion. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these, it’s just that they’re used. And used… and used. There were few things more thrilling to me, as both a judge and competitor, than experiencing a well-executed, unique performance.
Competing I received a crash course on the unwritten rules of intercollegiate forensics. In high school, it was OK for girls to wear dresses and pantsuits, and “talking to the wall” was a legitimate way to practice between rounds. In college, I learned the rules – written and not – made for a more formal experience. Upperclassmen and exceptional competitors were the “only” women who could wear pantsuits or red. At a tournament in South Dakota, a freshman student wore a white pantsuit. The veteran competitors were pretty sure lightning was going to strike the extemp prep room. Practicing during tournament weekends occurred only in the hotel hallway at 5 a.m. or behind closed doors in an empty room.
We Doane competitors, being new to the scene, were a pretty rag-tag bunch, and made quite a few snafus. At a tournament in Fargo I managed to get the extemp files – and myself – locked out of a campus building. The kicker was it was the dead of winter and I was wearing a skirt. (I never earned pantsuit status.) I think there was an occasion one of my teammates forgot to button the back of her skirt after using the restroom and went an entire round without noticing.
The first year the only team member who placed, I believe, was Anne. As the years progressed, so did many of the rest of us. I managed to place a few times, and learned the fine art of navigating a 12-hour day in high heels. Our experienced coaches knew their stuff, but beginning a program from scratch had to have been a challenge – much respect to coaches Dawn and Rachelle. To this day, when I hear about competitions, I can practically hear someone screaming in my ear, “It’s not a ‘speech meet,’ it’s ‘forensics tournament!’” More important, though, we were coached to release ourselves from “mind-binders” and venture out into uncharted forensics – and life -- territory.
While I don’t talk to my forensics friends much anymore, I think of them often – our rousing games of “Would You Rather?” and beginning every tournament trip with “On the Road Again.” I also wonder what kind of stories and legends – if any – there are of Doane’s very first forensics team.
I also wonder if the Doane Forensics Team still knows what makes the grass grow.