Picture this: you are up on a stage in front of a few judges and many other countless faces; college students, parents, friends, professors. You stand up there ready to give the best speech you’ve ever given, knowing you’ve worked on and improved this very speech for the last seven months. You’ve turned it from words written by someone else into your own personal work of art.
The SMSU Forensics Team does that very thing every weekend. When most people hear the term “forensics” they likely picture a crime scene. This is not the case when it comes to the SMSU Forensics Team. Benjamin Walker, who is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies here at SMSU, is the Director of Forensics, a position he has held for three years, along with being a coach for the team for six years.
Walker said that forensics is “competitive speech and debate” and that members of the team “give speeches or perform literature, and judges give them scores in comparison to other people from other schools, from other teams, and then figure out who is the best speaker or best debater of the tournament.”
Forensics is very similar to speech in high school. In fact, the Forensics Team hosts two high school speech tournaments on campus each season, with the first tournament being held Saturday, March 16. Walker explained that “hosting a tournament is always a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding” and that they end up “having hundreds of high school students and teachers on campus during the day.”
Members of the team compete at tournaments every weekend, with the occasional tournament happening in the middle of the week. Each member has a genre they compete in, whether it is Public Speaking, Interpretation/ Acting, or Limited Preparation. The students on the team will work on their speech or debate for most of the academic year.
Walker described the typical speech season to last most of the academic year” with the first tournaments starting “early October and [going] through April” with the national tournaments being held in April, and the team usually attends between 16 and 18 tournaments a season.
Like any other extracurricular or co-curricular group or team, students learn many life skills and gain other benefits from being on the team. Members can develop their passion for performing and speaking, and learn other important skills, like how to take and apply criticism.
Forensics is a co-curricular activity, having a course tied in with it. Walker stated that since he’s a professor and the director for the team “it’s very linked into what we do in communication studies” and that there is an academic link there.
Like most other group or team-based activities, there is also the opportunity to develop social skills. One goal that the Forensics Team aims towards with its members and students is to enhance their world view. Walker explained that one thing students get to do is “hear what other students have to say beyond the classroom” and that they have the opportunity to “speak their mind” and “engage in those debates.”
Crystal Enga, a senior at SMSU, has been a member of the team for four years and is the President of the Forensics team. She competed in speech in high school and “found out about the SMSU Forensics team while [she] was in high school competing at the tournament the [SMSU] team hosts.” She said she has gained many skills from being on the team, with “public speaking and performing” being the biggest, along with knowledge in advocacy which she says is a “great tool for the future.” Being a member of the team is “a great resume builder” as well, Enga stated.
Since she has been a member for four years and is president of the club, Enga has had the opportunity to “pass knowledge and experience down to others” and said one of her greatest accomplishments has been “seeing the club grow and succeed” during her time on the team.
There are many skills students can gain from being on the team, along with meeting new people and making new friends, and Walker stated that “if you like performance and speaking” and “working to get better, then this is the place for you.”
The SMSU Forensics Team will attend their next tournament this coming Saturday, March 9, at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, and it will be their district tournament, which is where they can qualify for nationals.