The Ohio University Debate and Forensics Team met its aggressive season goal of 40 nationally-qualified events in the nick of time when it joined Marshall University to host nine other teams for a swing tournament on the Athens campus this past weekend and participated in the last regular-season tournament of the academic year.
Dan West, the Cassese Director of Forensics, was blown away by the team's performance this past weekend and is ecstatic to report that all 11 team members will attend and compete in the National Forensics Association (NFA) National Tournament to be conducted April 19-23 at Berry College in Rome, Ga.
"What I really am impressed with is that we came back from winter break with only 21 events qualified for national competition," West said. "We added an additional 20 new events in January, which meant we were working really fast under tight deadlines to prepare for the recent tournament. For us to make it to 40 was just a huge jump; we doubled our nationally qualified entries in three weeks."
The swing tournament allowed students from all the colleges to compete in two one-day tournaments at the same location. Saturday's event was hosted by Marshall University, and Sunday's tournament was hosted by Ohio University. The tournaments featured more than 12 hours of competition each day. Teams in attendance included Fairmont State, Otterbein College, James Madison University, Ohio State University, Muskingum College, University of Akron, Kent State, George Mason University, Butler University and Cedarville University.
With 40 events qualifying for national competition, Ohio University has been firmly placed in NFA's Division I, an honor reserved for only the top 10 percent of schools based on numbers of nationally-qualified entries.
"We jumped from Division I to Division IV," West said, reflected on last year's final placing of 4th in Division IV and 35th overall. "It's huge. We're on our way to a goal of 75 of 80 events next year, which would put us in the top four or five schools in the nation."
Freshman Danielle Bernat was recruited to Ohio University by West after finishing fifth in the nation at the National Forensics League high school tournament in Dallas last year. She has qualified to perform in seven events at the upcoming NFA tournament. Although she had a background in speech and debate, her first season at Ohio University has motivated her to reach new heights.
"This experience has given me confidence in class, work experience and life experience," Bernat said. "To be able to talk in front of 3,000 people on stage says something about how you will spend the rest of your life."
For senior and team veteran Dan DiLoreto, the time he's put into honing his craft has already paid off.
"Employers view this experience as a great thing," he said. "I've had employers tell me that they picked me for the internship because of this experience and the skills that you develop. People don't know this program exists and really it's a whole world in itself."
No one understands that statement better than John Cassese, BSC '76, MA '79, who competed on the team as an undergraduate and now ranks as the team's biggest alumni supporter. After attending the swing tournament this past weekend, his excitement for the future of Ohio University's Forensics program has never been bigger.
"They are an incredible group of students," he said. "You can't help but get caught up in the excitement of what they are doing. I found them to be so polished, so poised, such wonderful ambassadors of Ohio University."
Cassese was equally impressed with West, who fills the endowed professorship he created. West competed on forensics teams for nine years and began his coaching career in 1988. This season marks his second at Ohio University.
According to Cassese, West is "the biggest Ohio University forensics cheerleader that I've seen in a long time.
"Every coach has added something, but Dan is so rigorous in his approach to the team, to getting them prepared," he said. "But underneath it all, he's got this razor-sharp focus on winning. He dreams big. Dan is focused on making OU the premier forensic program in the Midwest."
West, who believes his job is "to unlock the potential inside each student," has challenged the team members to perform their speeches 50 times to various audiences before competing in April.
"I told them the road to nationals is paved by 2,000 speeches," West said.
The caveat to all this success?
"Well, since we qualified so many events, we're too big for Division II," West reported. "We've got to fly high, or come home empty-handed."
The Ohio University Forensics Team is housed in the Scripps College of Communication's School of Communication Studies, but is open to all Ohio University students. Categories include informative speaking, persuasive speaking, after-dinner speaking, extemporaneous speaking, impromptu speaking, rhetorical criticism, prose interpretation, poetry interpretation and/or dramatic duo. The team competes six weekends each quarter, with travel expenses funded by the Scripps College.