Think the word forensics is a crime solving term? It turns out the term has more than one definition.
“Forensics" is actually an old Greek term meaning “speaking for judgment,” so it can be applied to speeches given to an audience making a judgement based on the arguments and evidence presented—for instance, a jury.
That’s the meaning applied to the Moorpark College forensics team, and on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center, that’s exactly what happened. Debate, communications, acting, comedy, theater, even singing were all used by team members to present their views.
It was all part of the 15th annual Night Before Nationals, a preview of what the forensics team will present to audiences and judges from April 6-15 at the national forensics competition in Schaumburg, IL.
The Moorpark College forensics team has been actively competing in tournaments for 41 years. During that time they’ve won nine national titles.
This year holds great promise for another. They are headed to Schaumburg because they were recently crowned as California college state champions. One of their coaches, communications and theater instructor Rolland Petrello, is optimistic they can come home with title number 10.
“We hope to come back with a national title,” he said. “This is the most talented group we’ve had in many years.”
For most of the team members, receiving an invitation to join the team starts when they enroll in political science, communications or theater classes.
For coach and communications instructor Jill McCall, it’s an invitation to step out of a classroom setting and gain some valuable experience.
“It’s a great way to introduce students who may become communication majors to forensics,” she said.
Melanie Price, a sophomore communications major who hopes someday to go into broadcast journalism, is such a student.
“Moorpark has an incredible program,” she said. “It’s a great legacy.”
For sophomore political science major Ashley Kohlbrand, forensics is a natural extension of what she has been doing since she was a young girl.
“I have always participated in public speaking, starting in Job’s Daughters,” said Ashley. “From there it grew into a love for public speaking and theater.”
Some students are bitten with the bug after they enroll in communication classes. That’s what happened to freshman political science major Hannah Holzmann.
“I went up to Rolland and asked to join the team,” she said, “because I really enjoyed critical thinking.”
Harrison Scheer, a sophomore political science major, joined the team for another reason.
“I wanted to actually participate in campus life,” he said. “I didn’t want to just go through college. I wanted to do more, to increase my critical thinking skills.”
Forensics is divided into three general categories: oral interpretation, platform presentation, and limited preparation. For the oral interpretations, team members cull from and memorize various literary resources. For the platform presentations, students do extensive research on a unique topic, then mold that research into a memorized speech. And finally, for limited preparations, a member selects an extemporaneous topic and is given a short amount of time to prepare and provide a public presentation.
Examples during this year’s Night Before Nationals included oral dramatic interpretations by Evan Anzalone and Stacy Treible on what it’s like to be gay.
Melanie Price provided a platform presentation about the current viability of artificial photosynthesis.
Harrison Scheer was given 30 minutes to prepare and provide a seven-minute presentation on the question "Can Romney win an election against Obama?"
Hannah Holzmann took one minute and 30 seconds of live preparation time on stage to provide a seven-minute answer to whether life really is like a box of chocolates.
And for 25 minutes, an ensemble group featuring Jessie Bruno, Amanda Bongiovani, Adam Rayzor and Larissa Olsen used their acting, comedy and singing skills to present a theatric argument about who really wrote the works of Shakespeare.
Hint: It wasn’t the bard.
Being on the forensics team requires long hours of coaching, research and preparation—this on top of each student’s job and normal schoolwork. But the experience can be bonding.
“To be a part of a group, with similar likes, it feels like a family,” said Kohlbrand. “When you’re doing something you love, nothing else matters.”
It also helps if you’re smart and have a good memory.
“You have to be a sponge to do this,” said Price.
But for Holzmann and many of her fellow team members, participating in forensics is like playing a college sport. It’s the thrill of performing in front of a live audience.
“You get an adrenaline rush being in front of people,” she admitted.