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Brownson Speech and Debate Team hits successful season with virtual competitions

Following yet another successful season, the Brownson Speech and Debate Team made it to the National Forensic Association National Tournament this year.

The team has been around for over 75 years, received a number of awards and traveled across the United States competing in numerous speech contests. Catherine Zizik, an associate professor of communication, serves as the faculty adviser for the team, and it's head coach is Ohrenberger-Hopkins.

“Forensics is a unique activity in that it is really more curricular than extra-curricular,” Sam Ohrenberger-Hopkins, an adjunct lecturer of communication, said. “It involves extensive research, writing and communication skills. Additionally, our students choose their own topics and selections, so in many cases they have personal connections to the messages they advocate and the characters they portray.”

Photo via Instagram/@setonhallspeech

The team participates in several types of speech and debate during competitions. The categories include Duo Interpretive, Persuasive, Rhetorical Criticism, After Dinner Speech (ADS), Dramatic Interpretation, Extemporaneous, Prose Interpretation and Poetry. 

Emily Feazel, a junior visual sound and media major, said she agrees that speeches are very personal and are “hard to let go of” once they are performed. She said it takes weeks of intricate practice to master a speech, and it may be difficult for some to start working on a different speech.

Competitions were virtual this year.. The team had to adjust to a completely new atmosphere—from traveling across the country to sitting in front of a computer screen and competing.

Despite having a virtual season, it did not change the way the team prepared for competitions. Each team member prepares a script before they receive assistance from other team members who provide peer coaching as well as consult with their coaching staff several times a week. 

“We prepare as a team by having mock tournaments where we run all of our events for each other and give feedback,” Sean Keegan, a junior visual sound and media major, said. “Individually, it’s just a lot of time spent writing, memorizing and practicing to get speeches polished.”

The majority of the Brownson Speech and Debate Team said they agreed that they cannot wait to go back to in-person competitions because of the atmosphere and pleasure of performing in front of a live audience and  that virtual speaking competitions are nothing like competing in person.

Despite having to navigate the virtual landscape, Ohrenberger-Hopkins said that this year was the team’s most successful season in “at least 15 years.”

“Tenth place at the American Forensic Association National Speech Tournament and ninth place at the National Forensic Association National Tournament are monumental accomplishments and far beyond what we thought possible for our modest program,” Ohrenberger-Hopkins said. “This was also our first year competing at the National Speech Championship, and we placed sixth.”

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