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March 11, 2009
The Northwest Forensics Team has been talking up a storm this year -- and in ways that command the attention of judges at speech and debate contests on college campuses across the region.
In late January the team, under first-year Coach David Nelson, a new faculty member in the Department of Communication, Theatre and Languages, traveled to the Gorlok Gala at Webster University in St. Louis. The team took home a number of trophies, and Michael Russell, a senior speech communication major, and Bree Berner, a freshman political science major, both of Maryville, won the parliamentary debate tournament in the novice division.
Also at Gorlok, Chelsea Nett, a junior theatre performance major from Corning, Iowa, paired with theatre performance major Steven Perkins of St. Louis for a win in the duo interpretation category, while Michael Tweedy, a senior political science major from Independence, was declared champion parliamentary speaker in the novice division.
Team members also distinguished themselves at the recent Missouri state tournament at Longview Community College in Kansas City, where Perkins captured a first in poetry, and Russell took firsts in prose and programmed oral interpretation. The pair combined for a win in the duo category, while the Northwest team placed second overall in the individual performance sweepstakes.
Nelson is hoping his team -- which has rarely competed on the road in recent years -- can cap what has already been a resurgent season with even more success. The squad is scheduled to participate in the biennial Pi Kappa Delta Convention and Tournament, which takes place March 18-21 in Shreveport, La. PKD is a national public speaking and debate honor society for undergraduate university students.
"It's just a willingness to learn, that's the most important thing" Nelson said when asked what his team needs to do in order to continue its winning ways. "You've got to keep up with current events, and you have to be open to criticism, because you don't get better without it. Sometimes you don't want to hear what you don't want to hear because your ego gets in the way."
But Nelson added that he doesn't want his students to dwell on losing a round or failing to achieve all their goals at a particular competition. He does, however, want them to use experience as a tool for improvement.
"So maybe you had a bad day, but come back and learn something," he said. "What I really want to emphasize is what the students are learning from this. If you do that, trophies will come."
Nelson described his relationship to the team as that of a facilitator. The students, he said, do the heavy lifting when it comes to getting ready for a debate or preparing an oral interpretation selection.
"There's not really a big need for me to push, because students want to succeed," he said. "The competitive nerve comes out, so that you want to be the person getting that first-place trophy. My job is just to help put people in that position."
Since this is his first year as Northwest's forensics coach, Nelson said he is reluctant to list specific high points for the season or evaluate its overall success. But he added that he is pleased with the way the students have rallied around each other.
"We seem to be hitting our form right at the right time (before the PKD tournament)," he said. "I think we're getting peak performances when we need them, right at the end of the season."
While speech and debate teams don't draw the huge crowds and media attention of, say, a collegiate athletic event, Nelson said the rewards of doing forensics as a college student are both real and lasting.
"First and foremost, it instills a certain work ethic," Nelson said. "Secondly, there is a bit of a learning curve, so the better you get at this, the more confident you get. You know you can do it. Also, it builds critical thinking skills through doing the research and finding the right information. Finally, there is the teamwork -- a really big thing for companies and corporations. You've got to work as a team, and when we go to a debate competition we all work together and share ideas."
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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