The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Forensics coach recognized for his service

Chris Outzen wins the Larry Schnoor Distinguished Service Award
Photo by Godwin Agbara
Chris Outzen at a team meeting ahead of their national tournament this weekend.

Chris Outzen, a UW-Eau Claire communications professor and the director of forensics, was honored with the Larry Schnoor Distinguished Service Award this year, ahead of the teams’ national tournament that will be hosted on campus this weekend.

The Larry Schnoor Distinguished Service Award recognizes forensics coaches in the fourth district (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota) who have made significant contributions to the district. 

The namesake for the award is Larry Schnoor, a professor at Minnesota State University-Mankato and “honorary Blugold,” due to his strong relationship with the UW-Eau Claire team.

“He wasn’t just a coach in the area, but he also is considered, for lack of a better word, the ‘Godfather’ of modern speech competition at the college level,” Outzen said. “He was instrumental in setting up multiple national organizations for our community.”

“This is someone who did a lot not only regionally, but also nationally for forensics,” Outzen said.

“What’s really cool about this award is that students across the district can write nomination letters, so we along with two other schools nominated him,” said Annika Emerson, fourth-year and current president of the forensics team on campus.

“Seeing how willing people were to write extra letters of nomination speaks a lot to who Chris is as a coach, not only for our team but how he’s seen across the nation by other teams,” Emerson said. “We honestly couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than Chris.”

Outzen has been coaching for 10 years, starting his coaching career officially in 2014 at Truman State University in Missouri. He coached there for six years before joining the UW-Eau Claire department fall 2020.

Outzen was hired on March 12, 2020, the day before the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools for what was originally a longer spring break, which turned into a worldwide pandemic and quarantine.

But he started building his relationship with UW-Eau Claire while competing during his undergrad at the University of Northern Iowa.

“What brought me to coaching in Eau Claire was that I had a huge amount of respect for this team. Some of my best friends in the community were from the Eau Claire team,” Outzen said. “Eau Claire has always held a really significant piece of my memory.”

Outzen’s speech journey started in his first year of high school. 

“It was a lot of people dragging me into it. I was a very shy student up until my first year of high school when one of my best friends dragged me into high school speech auditions and it stuck,” Outzen said.

Outzen said that his public speaking professor was the person who pushed him to try out for college forensics. He found that he liked the college style of competition better than high school, and provided different ways for student growth.

“I remember where I started, and I remember where I ended in terms of my college career. And somewhat out of love for the activity, and somewhat out of a sense of duty, I felt like this is an opportunity I have to make sure other students have, ’cause I don’t recognize the person I was at 18,” Outzen said.

“Coming out of it and having to reorient people to what it means to compete in person, made me rethink coaching as a less rigid science and much more of a humanistic approach,” Outzen said. “Covid demonstrated how everything we’d known about how to do this activity could be tossed out the window.”

Outzen said, “Coming out of that, it feels like I’m a much more adaptable coach. The team has been doing consistently a little bit stronger each year since I’ve been here, and I think we can chalk it up to everybody learning how to be more adaptable.”

Outzen credits Larry Schnoor as a significant supporter of his and finds appreciation in the award being in his namesake.

“I remember I was having a bad competitive year as a sophomore and he judged an event I was a part of. I won that event at that tournament. He pulled me close and said, ‘Congratulations. You earned it. You still have a lot of work to do, but you earned it,’” Outzen said.

“I really appreciate that it’s named after Larry Schnoor because that’s someone I really look up to, and I appreciate feeling like I’m being recognized by my home.”

Looking ahead, the forensics team will be competing this weekend April 5-8 at the American Forensics Association (AFA) national tournament, which is hosted on campus, and led by Outzen. 

“It’s really nice to be seen. Service is how the forensics community survives. We can’t do what we do without people who are willing to step up and volunteer and say, ‘I can do this,’” Outzen said.

Agbara can be reached at [email protected].

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