The year I fell in love with forensics

I took my forensics team to their first tournament of the year this weekend. Most were at a tournament for their first time. They are young but full of potential, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. Of course, there is a part of me that would be happy to have a full team of singularly talented students who need little coaching but walk away with team trophies every week. It’s the part of me that likes to win, which anyone who has ever played a board game with me will tell you I like to do.

That part of me shrinks a little bit every year, as I learn to appreciate forensics more and more. When you don’t have a team of ingenues, what you learn to fall in love with is the progress, the personal milestones that more often than not go unrewarded outside of a hushed conversation in a high school stairwell. “I think I did my best performance yet in that round!” “I made it through my speech without a single stumble!” “I didn’t get any 5s today!”

As my appreciation of the activity grows, I’m reminded of the year I fell in love with forensics. Before I can tell you that story, however, we have to go back to my introduction to high school speech. And in order to tell the story of how I joined the forensics team, I have to explain Flan.

Kathy Flannery was a legend in the forensics world when I unwittingly stepped into her line of sight. I loved her immediately but not for the right reasons. She was a cartoon of a woman, pastel sweater-clad, cat-loving, shoeless, messy long gray braid placed over one shoulder and cascading over an ample and poorly supported bosom. My teenage brain could barely take her all in at once. When she spoke, I was reminded of Luna of the Lunataks, a group of adversaries from Thundercats. Her voice was childlike but raspy at the same time. I had only stopped by the forensics meeting to meet a friend who was going to give me a ride home, but now I was caught in Flan’s web. Earlier that day, I had given a speech in front of the freshman class to be their class president, and with that fact loaded like a bullet in a forensics gun, Flan had me. (She would tell me I am using too many metaphors for one paragraph if she were editing this blog post.)

With Flan’s assistance, I wrote my first Public Address, and after my first round of competition, this forensics thing clicked in my brain. By week two, I was taking home trophies. The part of me that likes to win was jumping up and down. She and I repeated that success my sophomore year. I loved the accolades. I loved how valued I felt because I was a points-earning machine. But I didn’t yet love forensics, though I didn’t know it at the time.

My junior year, a lot changed. I moved into a harder category and success was not so easy. Because my motivation for competing was to do well, forensics lost its spark. (In hindsight, I wasn’t doing poorly. I often found myself in finals rounds, I just wasn’t winning those final rounds.) To go to state, you had to be one of the top 25 most successful entries on the team. North High was blessed enough at that time to have a very large team, and I was number 26. By every measure of my adolescent brain, I had failed miserably.

And this was when I learned to love forensics. When I could no longer confuse my love for winning with a love for the activity, I saw all the great things forensics had provided for me. I would never again need to worry about getting up in front of people to speak. I had become a better writer. And most importantly, I had found my people. My teammates, who I had assumed were being nice to me because I was adding value to the team, were nice to me even when I wasn’t winning. I looked around the room at a meeting, and I saw my friends.

I feel like being a teenager gets harder every year. The young people on my team know so much more about each other without interacting in real life, and I think that puts a strain on personal relationships that is unhealthy. I hope that they, too, can look around the room at a meeting and see their friends. I hope that they, too, can learn to love forensics not for the successes, but for the many ways it will benefit them later in life. I hope that, like me, one or two of these young people grow up to coach forensics. I love this activity. I’m so happy to be sharing it with my team.

I’m also thrilled to share my love of forensics with listeners of the Forensics Faces podcast, which started its weekly regular season episodes this week. If you want to learn more about forensics, I recommend you take a listen.

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