The Truman State University forensics team has competed in two tournaments so far this season, advancing into elimination rounds in multiple events and securing 12 nationals qualifications.
The team picked up four nationals qualifications at the Western Kentucky University Round Robin and Fall Tournaments Sept. 19-22 and eight nationals qualifications at the Derryberry Memorial Speech and Debate Tournament hosted by Southwest Baptist University Oct. 4-5.
Forensics Director Chris Outzen said at the most recent tournament at SBU, senior Caleb Daniels was a semifinalist in debate and freshman Zoie Francisco made it to the quarterfinals of the novice division in her first tournament. He said on the speech side, Truman students made it to elimination rounds in persuasive speaking, prose interpretation, impromptu speaking and more.
“I’m happy to say we didn’t really have any stand-out strengths because we did well in a number of different categories,” Outzen said.
Outzen described the team as cohesive and well rounded at the tournament, which showed off its comprehensive forensics education that seeks to value speech and debate equally.
Among the competitors who received nationals qualifications was junior debater Cami Smith. Smith earned her qualification at the Western Kentucky Tournament by making it to double octofinals in the Lincoln-Douglas debate. This year, competitors are debating energy policy in the U.S.
Smith said one thing she does to prepare for a debate is called “spreading”— a popular practice in the debate community — which means speed reading. Debaters will speak as fast as they can often to the point of being incomprehensible to listeners.
“Then at the tournament, I will sometimes listen to really fast rap songs and try to rap them and enunciate all of the words to practice speaking for my round,” Smith said.
Smith said the team meets every Tuesday as part of its preparation for competition, but a lot more individual work is done outside of team meetings and practices.
Outzen said the team owes its success first and foremost to the students. He said while he and Assistant Director of Forensics Craig Hennigan can coach and give advice all they want, everything ultimately comes down to the students.
“Their willingness to work, make decisions and care about what they’re doing provides us the base for all of this,” Outzen said.
Outzen also credits the team’s success to the legacy of Truman forensics, which has been around, in some form or another, since 1880. Included in that legacy are alumni who know the value of the activity and those who are willing to support it.
Outzen said some alumni have come back to help coach the team, including Kevin Minch, associate provost and former forensics director.
“We may not always know where some of our practices come from and we may not always know why we do some of the things we do, but the tried and true practices that have made Truman forensics special get passed down through the generations and there’s something to be said about a program that keeps some of its traditions alive, that continues to value this activity and what this program is,” Outzen said.
Senior Austin Sopko said he spends nearly all of his time thinking about the team or working on speeches.
Sopko finaled in multiple speech events at the SBU Tournament. He placed second in Prose Interpretation, third in Duo Interpretation with junior Audrey Baker, sixth in Impromptu Speaking and fifth in Individual Sweepstakes.
Sopko said this was the first tournament of the season where many of the competitive Missouri schools like SBU, the University of Central Missouri and Webster University were together.
“Doing well at this tournament is a really good sign for the rest of our season because that means that we’re still at the same level with these other really good and competitive schools,” Sopko explained.
Sopko said he has met a lot of friends all over the country through speech and debate. He said speech will always be a part of his life in some capacity.
“The power of being in control of a room and having everyone listen to what you have to say and making people think, making people laugh or making people have a new perspective on something is just so fascinating to me and it’s so much fun,” Sopko said. “It gives me such a rush.”