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Persuasive! Ohio University Speech Team’s championship season

Ohio University’s Speech and Debate Team capped its championship season with a national title in oratory competition.

In the 2022-2023 forensics season (September-April), the OHIO team:

  • Competed and won on the national stage
  • Developed a bench of talent for next season
  • Added to OHIO’s longstanding forensics legacy

Oratory champion

Senior Mackenzie Joseph, a communication studies major in the Scripps College of Communication, won the national oratory championship on April 23, in Austin, Texas, at a competition sponsored by the Interstate Oratorical Association, the nation's oldest competitive collegiate speaking association.

Participants in this contest are top state finalists. Ohio University’s Susan Adair won this championship in 1969, when the Interstate Oratorical competition had divisions for men and women.

Joseph’s championship speech — which she wrote — focused on protecting children from exploitive language. During the 2022-2023 season, she also won first place awards at tournaments in Alabama, Michigan and Ohio including a state championship in Persuasive Speaking in February.

National reputation

On March 15-18, Ohio University’s team competed at the Pi Kappa Delta (PKD) Nationals at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Joseph won second place in Persuasive Speaking at the competition.

In addition, two OHIO students from Parkersburg, West Virginia, won PKD championships. Emily “Em” Marlow won first place in the Interviewing category and Soren Starkey won first place in Prose Interpretation and first place in Duo Interpretation with teammate Jalen Tolbert, who is from Dayton.

In debate, junior Anthony Banks advanced to octo-finals at PKD Nationals. Starkey and Joseph advanced to semi-finals in Public Forum. Banks, Starkey and Joseph ranked in the top ten among debate speakers. 

Bench of talent

Tolbert, a sophomore, won a state championship in Duo Interpretation with teammate Starkey. Tolbert and underclassmen Abreanna Blose, Emily Osborne, and Bre Reidl won first place awards in multiple speech categories at contests in Illinois, Ohio and Oklahoma. 

Ohio University’s speech and debate program draws talent from strong high school teams throughout the region. Blose and Reidl, for example graduated from Perry High School in Massillon,Ohio, and participated in the debate program.

Start-to-finish success

At one of the first college tournaments of the season — sponsored by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia — OHIO’s Starkey won first place in Dramatic Interpretation.

Two weeks later at the University of Alabama, Starkey took first in Prose Interpretation and would win more top awards in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Ohio University hosted a major tournament Jan. 27-28, showcasing the Athens campus. Varsity speakers do not compete in home tournaments; freshman Emily Osborne won a first place (novice) and also placed among top finishers at other competitions.

The Ohio University Speech and Debate Team
The Ohio University Speech and Debate Team at a home tournament in January 2023. Photo by Ryan Grzybowski.

Varsity competitors from OHIO are familiar figures on the forensics circuit. Senior Tori Smith won first place in two categories at the Marshall University tournament Oct. 28-29 and another first place in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Feb. 4.

In March, senior Adam Cahoon won two firsts and a third at a Chicago-based tournament. Senior teammate Luke May placed among top finishers in multiple competitions throughout the season.  

Seniors Taylor Mondragon and Miranda Truslow won first in Duo Interpretation at Eastern Michigan University on Feb. 5. At month later, Mondragon and Starkey took first in that category at the Illinois State University tournament. Truslow is state champion in Dramatic Interpretation and also won that category in a mid-December tournament in Oklahoma.

In sum, as they say in speech, Ohio University’s 2022-2023 season was dramatic. OHIO's success resulted from preparation, discipline and the willingness to traverse the country to compete against the best.

Jennifer Talbert, School of Communication Studies, is the John A. Cassese Director of Forensics at Ohio University.

Jennifer Talbert is shown with the Distinguished Service Award
Coach Jennifer Talbert received the Distinguished Service Award from National Forensics Association, April 17, in Peoria, Illinois.
April 27, 2023
Jennifer Talbert