Eau Claire claims championship

Chris Kemp

The number 13 proved to be lucky Feb. 19 for the UW-Eau Claire Forensics team as they walked away from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Forensics Tournament as champions for the 13th consecutive time.

In addition to the victory, Eau Claire also will send two of its members, senior Kelly Bender and junior Betsy Schroeder to the Interstate Oratory Contest in Boston, Mass., according to an Eau Claire press release.

Each state can send two representatives to The Interstate Oratory Contest, and Eau Claire has sent both for the past 13 years, Karen Morris, director of forensics and senior lecturer of communication and journalism, said in the press release.

Many of the roughly 20 active members contributed to the win, including seven first-place finishes out of the 11 categories. These were followed by many second-, third- and fourth-place finishes for the team.

The Evening of Champions
A Forensics team public performance that will feature nine performances from members. Everyone is encouraged to attend.
Time: 7 p.m.
Date: March 29
Place: Davies Theatre, Davies Center
Cost: Free

Returning to the tournament as a 12-time consecutive winner, Eau Claire faced additional pressure to get the 13th win, sophomore Amy Oldakowski said.

“There was definitely a pressure to win,” she said. “But our team knew that if we worked hard we could continue the success that we have shown in the past.”

The team competed against six other strong teams, provoking some apprehension going into the tournament, Morris said.

“Ripon College has gotten really good,” she said. “Madison has really taken off, and we were worried about them coming in and taking first.”

The competition changes every year, Morris said.

“This year we won by about 100 points, but there have been years where we have gone and won by 20 points,” she said. “It just depends on the year.”

Keeping an eye on the competition is a good thing to do, Morris said. Eau Claire finished with 204 points, Ripon with 113 points and Madison with 80 points.

“You have to be driven to win; you have to really want it,” she said. “There is always pressure to win the tournament.”

Oldakowski, who placed first in informative speaking, said it’s very exciting to win because of all the work and passion they put into their speeches.

“When you end up getting first in the state,” she said, “it makes you very proud of all the work and the coaching you have gone through.”

Winning means practice, and the students have to be dedicated and motivated to be on the team, Morris said. The forensics season starts in September and goes through April.

“We have 27 tournaments per year, and then nationals,” she said. “We try and take off one weekend per month and not everyone travels to every tournament.”

The team does not have scheduled group practices like many other teams, but that doesn’t mean they don’t practice a lot, Morris said. The coaches put up a sheet outside of their offices with 30 minute slots each day for members to sign up to practice with the coach. The members also practice on their own.

“You can’t go to a tournament without your speech being seen,” she said. “As we get closer to nationals, we start practicing more.”

Students will take anywhere from two to seven events, so the number of times they meet with the coaches depends on how many new events they are working on, Morris said.

The team is now preparing for the district tournament and the three national tournaments: The Interstate Oratory Contest, The American Forensics Association and The National Forensics Association.

Eau Claire is in District 4, which includes seven different states, Morris said. It’s important because the top three people in every event will qualify for nationals, she said.

“There isn’t a team award,” she said. “But for individuals, it’s the last time for them to qualify for nationals.”

Most teams go to either the AFA or the NFA, but usually not both, Morris said.

“Eau Claire is one of six schools that have been to every single AFA and NFA tournament,” she said, “and one in 12 schools that go to both right now.”

Eau Claire is nationally known and recognized as a top team, Morris said.