By Erin Roberts and Kristen Rapin
First-year student Austin Temple jokes that he joined the Ohio University Forensic team because his recruiter -- and now fellow debater -- Mike Catlos "is a very persuasive, tall and scary individual."
Despite his initial reasons for joining, Temple has proven he's right where he should be: He's won 59 trophies this academic year in addition to qualifying for both the National Forensic Association (NFA) and American Forensics Association (AFA) tournaments, season-capping contests that take place in April.
While winning is affirming, he says the camaraderie is what means the most.
"My favorite part of the team is the people," he said. "Competition only gives you so much, but to watch teammates and friends from around the nation succeed in something they love is awesome."
He'll have the chance to watch friends and teammates perform later today with the kick off of the two-day Ohio Forensic Association Novice State Championship Tournament, which pits first-year students from Ohio University against students from seven other schools around the state. Other weekend events include the Appalachian Swing tournament, comprising the Ohio University Interstate Individual Events Tournament on Saturday and the Ohio University Forensics Alumni tournament on Sunday.
"We're happy to serve as a host to any tournament in the region," says Dan West, the John A. Cassese director of forensics, who recently learned that Ohio University won its bid to host the 40th NFA tournament next year. "A lot of teams want to come here because we're going to host the nationals here in 2010, and they want to get a feel for our campus and our town. We're also recruiting better teams as our reputation improves."
In the last year, Ohio University's team has doubled to 22 members. While most are first-year debaters and seven of the 22 are communication majors, the team is open to students of every major and year at Ohio University. This year's team has garnered more than 50 NFA qualifications and placed third in Norton Invitational at Bradley University, widely considered a litmus test of national team rankings.
"While we placed third at the Norton, we are probably fourth in the nation because the Bradley University team didn't compete," said West, whose goal is to focus on the quality rather than the quantity of this year's entries in the national tournament in April.
Temple, a native of Carrollton, Ohio, seems to have fallen right in step with the team's rigorous schedule. In addition to 17 weekend tournament trips during the 2008-2009 academic year, team members meet every Tuesday in Central Classroom Building to perfect their events.
West can't say enough about Temple and the entire team's commitment.
"Austin is one of a number of first-year students on the best novice team I'd ever had," West said. "They are just blowing me out of the water; they are so good. Austin exemplifies what I think all the first-year students convey, that they want to be here at Ohio University to be part of an excellent team. He balances everything, and that's amazing."
While Ohio University won the Novice Nationals last year, this year's team won't be able to participate because the March competition coincides with the Ohio High School Speech League State Tournament, the team's most important recruitment event. West says the team will be back in the novice nationals next year.
In addition to the national competition, next year also will be special in that it will mark the 200th anniversary of speech and debate at Ohio University. West is currently working to organize an alumni organization to help support today's team and events such as the alumni tournament this weekend.
"Our alumni base spans many generations, and it's important for me to build the base of a vibrant alumni community to donate their time and talent to the current team," he said. "After meeting alumni last year, several of the students have asked alumni to critique their speeches via e-mail. It's wonderful to reignite that connection with their alma mater."
Erin Gallagher Barnhart, an associate attorney at Jones Day in Columbus who received bachelor's and master's degrees from Ohio University in 2002, and her husband, Rob Barnhart, an assistant prosecuting attorney in the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office who received his bachelor's from Ohio University in 2003, will judge events during the alumni tournament on Sunday.
Gallagher Barnhart says the experiences and skills she gained in four years on the forensics team not only aided her throughout law school but also come in to play daily in the courtroom.
"Forensics still helps me today in writing briefs and making my argument in court," she said. "One of our team motivational phrases was to speak with 'power, purpose and passion.' Knowing how to take control of a room and relay a message with power, purpose and passion is one of the most valuable skills anyone can master."
For a schedule and room locations for this weekend's events, visit Walter Hall 135 on Friday and Sunday, and room 235 on Saturday.