It's not the forensic science you hear about on CSI. The word "forensics" comes from a Greek word meaning legal rhetoric or speech. Colleges compete in forensics and debate and Carson-Newman University's team is the state champion - again.
Students train for competitive events that have nothing to do with physical strength or quick reflexes. Judges at forensics tournaments evaluate students based on strict standards that reward preparation, attention to detail and performing under pressure.
"We are able to showcase competitive talent in a way that's not athletic. The people who come to this program are the most articulate people in the school, they are the some of the most brilliant people in the school," said Director of Forensics Chip Hall.
In the dozen years Hall has coached forensics at Carson-Newman, the speech and debate team has won nine state championships.
"Success begets success. When you surround yourself with great people you make each other great. And it's a positive feedback loop that just keeps getting better and that's the plan," Louis Murray said.
He leads a team with a tradition of filling rooms with trophies.
"I tell them over and over and they are sick of hearing it, if you walk away with only trophies then I have failed you. But if you walk away with no trophies but an amazing skill set, then you win every time you use that skill set when you are out in the world somewhere," Hall said.
Murray is president of the speech and debate team. He just won the state championship in parliamentary debate, extemporaneous speaking and persuasive speaking.
"He is a biology major. You'll think that's not a natural fit for public speaking competition. He has been accepted to Harvard Law School. So when you talk about a well-rounded student it doesn't get much more than a biology major who goes to law school and wins state championships in public speaking," his coach explained.
"Speech and debate really goes hand-in-hand with the law. Not just the public speaking aspect but the thinking organization and analysis aspects," Murray said.
Speech and debate go hand-in-hand with law school, grad school, med school, careers in business, media and education.
Like every other college team, new members join and experienced competitors graduate. But the success of the Carson-Newman team seems almost destined to continue.
Next week, the Carson-Newman team will compete at a national tournament in Idaho. Then next month, they'll finish their season at the national championship tournament in Wisconsin.
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