Speak up!

Story by Thom Fountain

UW-Eau Claire’s Forensics team has had a history of success, including a 19-year run as state champion and multiple individual national champions since the program began in 1944.

Forensics — which has very little to do with solving murders — is, in simplest terms, competitive public speaking.

Students compete in a variety of events that test their oratory, writing and analytic skills. The events are held in tournaments around the country and culminate in two national championships, both of which Eau Claire has done well at in recent years.

While winning is certainly a perk, senior Holly Albers said the success of the team can be attributed to the members’ desire to learn and improve.

“A lot of the team is here for the educational aspect,” Albers said. “It’s more than the trophies and I think that helps us get the trophies.”

Albers also said the Forensics team is more like a family and that closeness contributes to their success.

Junior Megan McKeown said the same.

“I found a group of people I can really relate to,” McKeown said. “It’s a home away from home.”

 

The History

UW-Eau Claire started its first competitive speech team in 1944 when Grace Walsh began teaching at the university. Walsh, who at the time was the only female professor at Eau Claire, was a founding member of the university’s communications and journalism department.

Since 1944, the team has had continued success, particularly in the last few decades. Eau Claire has 19 consecutive state championships and more than 50 individual state champions since 2000.

Walsh retired in 1980 and died in 2000, but has left her legacy with the current team. Junior Megan McKeown said the team follows a specific piece of advice from Walsh: “Be proud of what you do and don’t take out junk.”

McKeown said the motto emphasizes the team’s belief in being passionate in every process of a speech — from the writing to the performance — and never performing something you aren’t completely satisfied with.

 

Some of the Students

 

Megan McKeownJunior 

Events:

Prose Interpretation

Informative Speaking

Program Oral Interpretation Drama Interpretation

Poetry Interpretation

Dramatic Duo

 

 

Junior Megan McKeown’s mother was a high school forensics coach, so she got started in the program early. When looking for colleges, she said she realized how important communication was to her.

“It clicked in my head that (a communications and speech team) was something I found important and something I wanted to continue to do in college,” McKeown said. “Our team being 19 year state champions was a good kicker.”

McKeown said that history of success is very prevalent in the program. The team focuses on it at the beginning of each season.

“That rich history has definitely helped us get to where we are now,” McKeown said.

 

Patrick Martin

Senior

 

Events:

Informative Speaking

Impromptu Speaking

Extemporaneous Speaking

Dramatic Duo

Persuasive Speaking

 

Earlier this year, senior Patrick Martin won the Interstate Oratory Contest national championship — the 8th Blugold to do so in the team’s history.

“It was really amazing,” Martin said. “To take a speech from  just that half-paragraph blurb (in a newspaper) to all the sudden be standing in a room full of 1500 kids, having known every step of the way how you created that, is really incredible.”

The success of the UW-Eau Claire Forensics team is a main reason Martin decided to attend the school. He attributes much of that success — and a lot of his own championship — to the coaching staff.

 

James Kust

 

Senior

 

Events:

Informative Speaking

Persuasive Speaking

After Dinner Speech

Dramatic Duo

Extemporaneous Speaking

Impromptu Speaking

 

 

Senior James Kust, an Eau Claire native, started forensics at North Star Middle School and was hooked by the mix of the theatrical output and the competitive spirit of the program.

Kust said he is drawn to the Imromptu Speaking event, where the contestant has to think quickly.

“You never quite know what it’s going to be,” Kust said. “So that’s a lot of fun.”

Kust said he has gotten a lot from forensics, but is particularly fond of the companionship of his team and even participants from other schools.

“It’s very competitive, but it’s a social activity as well,” Kust said. “It’s fun to have those friendships.”

 

Holly Albers

Senior

 

Events:

Poetry Interpretation

Prose Interpretation

Informative Speaking

Communication Analysis

Drama Interpretation

Dramatic Duo

 

 

Unlike most of her teammates, senior Holly Albers didn’t start forensics in high school. During Albers’ freshman year, she accidentally ended up in Introduction to Forensics (CJ 100) and fell in love with it.

“The educational aspect of it is really cool,” Albers said. “You see speeches about topics that are just so profound … You learn so much.”

Albers, who is the vice-president of the team, said forensics has helped her communicate better.

“You definitely learn how to talk to people in a more sophisticated manner,” Albers said. “And then you learn how to be more attentive as a person.”

 

The Events

 

Persuasive Speaking

 

Original speech designed to inspire, reinforce or change the beliefs of the audience.

 

 

 

Informative Speaking

 

Original, factual speech on a realistic subject to inform the audience.

 

 

 

After-Dinner Speaking

 

Original, humorous informative or
persuasive speech.

 

 

 

Communication Analysis

 

Original speech to offer an explanation or evaluation of a speech, poem, film, etc.

 

 

 

Extemporaneous Speaking

 

Contestants have 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech on one of three topics in the general area of current events.

 

 

 

Impromptu Speaking

 

Contestants are given a quotation and have seven minutes to prepare and give a speech on that quotation.

 

 

 

Poetry Interpretation

 

A selection of poetry of literary merit.

 

 

 

Prose Interpretation

 

An original or selection of prose material of literary merit.

 

 

 

Drama Interpretation

 

A selection from a play of literary merit with one or more characters.

 

 

 

Dramatic Duo

 

A presentation from any genre of
literature with two characters presented by two individuals.

 

 

 

Program Oral Interpretation

 

A program of thematically linked selections from two or three recognized genres (poetry, prose or drama).