Meet the Debate and Forensics Clubs

Shining a light on two under-appreciated teams

by Isabella Franklin

When someone says the word forensics, it usually brings images of dead bodies, crimes, and investigations to mind. When someone says the word debate, people picture polished politicians calmly debating the state of American policy. But for kids in the speech activities club, they most likely picture their friends, a script, pages of research, and tired-looking, middle-aged judges staring at them from across a desk.

Speech activities is an entirely different world from many other activities, even other clubs, so it’s not surprising that it’s so widely misunderstood. After all, public speaking is consistently found to be the most common fear amongst Americans, so this begs the questions: why do these students choose to speak publicly, and what exactly is it that they do in these clubs?

The lesser understood of the two clubs is easily forensics. Whereas people have a generally clear idea of what debate is, most couldn’t even begin to guess what forensics is. Much of this is due to its unusual name. The word comes from the Latin word forensis, meaning “publicly” or “in open court,” so it makes perfect sense for competitive speech. That doesn’t exactly explain what it is, though.

“Forensics is competitive public speaking! There are two sides to forensics: interpretation and public address. Interpretation is acting, and public address is more speech-giving on different topics to reach different goals. There’s a little something for everyone in forensics,” said forensics team captain Annie Spidel. “My goals for the team are to recruit more people, finish above 10th place in the team sweepstakes at states, break people to finals at states, and to qualify people for nationals in Miami!”

As for what the team does to prepare for tournaments, the process is long but generally straightforward.

“We work on our outlines. We do research and pick pieces to perform, then we get help from our coach, Mandee,” said junior Sarah Allen, a new member of Dexter High School’s forensics team.

After team members pick what category to perform in and what they’re going to perform, they work with the team’s coach to perfect these performances until they’re ready to compete against others. So why do forensics team members choose to do something as potentially mortifying as public speaking? A few students were interviewed to answer this question.

Senior Kaitlin Helmholtz, a veteran member of the forensics team and Dexter Drama Club president, felt that forensics gives her the opportunity to perform instead of working backstage.

“I enjoy being able to act and get feedback on it. I’m not usually one to be on stage, so it’s a nice opportunity to get to act,” she said.

While the opportunity to act, compete, and receive feedback is one pull to the forensics team, some enjoy being on the team because of their fellow team members. “Everyone’s chill. My favorite memory is when we were at states and we were all laying down on an inflatable mattress,” said senior Gabi Fracassi. As members of the team must perform for each other, share hotel rooms, work together to refine their pieces, share feedback with each other, and spend hours or days together at tournaments, the team has a very close and comfortable feel, especially once tournament season starts. The forensics tournament season doesn’t begin until early 2018, so the team still has ample time to prepare and recruit new members before the season begins.

The debate team, on the other hand, has already begun preparing and competing this year and is well into their season. “We meet, we discuss topics at length, look at them with multiple lenses, discuss pros and cons, and start writing cases. Then, we collect evidence to support our cases and collect evidence to refute others’ cases,” sophomore Rose Reilly said. After they have their cases prepared, team members work together to improve their cases and find weak points in their arguments. “We go against other kids on our team, and coaches give us feedback on how we did and how to improve our arguments for when it comes to tournament time.”

Debate isn’t necessarily all serious discussion, research, and work, though.

“Debate team is all about a group of people with like-minded interests who like to argue going out to tournaments,” debate team captain and DHS junior Tate Evans said. “Part of it is camaraderie, part is just enjoying the intricacies of arguments.” According to Evans, half of being on the team is winning tournaments and the other half is preparing arguments and having fun with friends.

When junior Hannah Jacobsen-Harm was asked her favorite memory of being on the debate team, she said, “States sophomore year, when we were in the hotel rooms messing around, talking about the tournament, and smack talking other teams.”

Being on the team not only has the benefit of being with friends, but also provides benefits in areas outside of debate. “I enjoy being part of the debate team. Delving into topics that I am unfamiliar with improves my academic ability.” junior Tavan Zadeh said. Debate helps to improve one’s academic, conversational, and, of course, argumentative abilities. Team members must also do research into current events, keeping them connected to the world around them and making them think deeply about the pros and cons of modern political discussions.

“One of the things we have going this year is we have, like, almost three times as many novices as we did last year, a huge amount,” Evans said. Working new members into a group is never easy, but the varsity debaters are determined to make novices feel included in the team and ready for tournaments. Evans believes that the best way to help new members be ready is to get them started with real debating as soon as possible.

“A goal is to connect with novices and catch them up to speed,” Evans said. “It’s very intense. I want to do more practice debates so that they can criticize other people’s arguments so can be more prepared for tournaments.”

Though the speech activities club isn’t as well-known or celebrated as most, it’s full of hard workers and thoughtful, talented people. Both teams are very successful, with members consistently making it to tournament finals or states. The forensics and debate teams are places in which people can hone their public speaking, academic, and acting abilities while competing against other schools and teams and making friends.