SALEM – Members of the Salem High School Forensics Team are characters – literally. And this year’s team is hoping to improve on the “D9asty” title it earned last year by winning its 10th straight state championship in Midlothian March 28.
For those who are unfamiliar with what high school forensics is, team co-captain Lauren Wygal describes it as a speech team that competes in three tournament categories, which include impromptu speeches and oratory, or written speeches, along with poetry.
“Then the rest are interpretation categories, and what you do is you take a piece of literature – a book or a play – and you cut it into about a 10 minute selection and you interpret it competitively,” explained Wygal, a senior who was a 2014 state champion in the Humorous Duo Category.
As for the kind of careers SHS forensics alumni go on to have, team members’ answers ranged from lawyers to actors to teachers. “Anything that involves strong communication,” Wygal summarized.
Teammate Ben Lewis, a junior who competes in the Poetry category, noted that involvement in forensics also helps students in the college application process because it shows they’re experienced in and not afraid of public speaking.
“Yale did a study that showed that if you show that you participated in a speech or debate team, or were a captain of that as opposed to a sports team, that will look a lot better on a college application,” said Lewis.
It also wouldn’t hurt members of the team to have another state championship etched onto their resumes and college applications, and teammates agreed that being a part of Salem High’s potentially historic streak would mean “everything” to them.
The 10 straight state titles would be an SHS record, and would bring the school closer to the Virginia High School League record of 15 straight forensics state titles, set by Blacksburg High School from 1989-2003.
“Every year it gets more and more meaningful,” said Chris Pope, a senior who competes in the Humorous category. “It means we’re that much closer to breaking the record. So we’ve just got to keep doing better and better and keep improving our team.”
Others said winning the 10th straight state championship wasn’t as important to them as the feeling of individual and team accomplishment.
“I don’t even think it’s about the record, I just think that it’s so special to see so many individual accomplishments come together for a state title,” said Wygal.
“I think it sounds kind of cheesy, but everyone’s forensics journey is a little bit different,” said Emily Brown, who competes in the Prose category. ”Some of us have been on the team four years. Some people like Chris [Pope], he was only able to be on the team for two years… But for me, personally, being a senior, it would be really cool if we could win our 10th year in a row.”
The coach behind Salem’s championship streak is Mark Ingerson, who came to SHS as a teacher in 2000 and started coaching the team in 2001. The team won its first state title in 2006, and members of this year’s team credited Ingerson with starting a winning tradition.
“It reflects on our coach a lot, looking at how he’s been able to take all these people who have so many other talents and get them together not only to perform as one whole team, but to perform for themselves in a way,” said Maya Cooke. ”The fact that he’s able to continue having so many successful students on this team is just really impressive. So it would be awesome if we continue to see that progress.”
Lewis and others added that team leadership has also contributed to the team’s continued success.
“We have a lot of people on this team that have either placed in state finals or have won states before, and I think that is what has allowed us to carry through so many strong victories this season,” said Jack Beedle, an individual 2014 state champion.
“It’s a lot less about having to start from the ground up every year because you just keep adding on,” added co-captain Jordi Shelton. “Like, I’m a senior, and the seniors when I was a freshman taught me what I know, and then you go up and start teaching new people, so it’s just kind of like this constant stream of teaching and it’s worked for us.”
SHS students won 51 individual titles from 2004-2014, and the team looks to add more champions to that list after this year’s competition. In last year’s state championship, 20 teams competed, and the SHS team won by a dominating score of 46-13 over Lynchburg’s E.C. Glass High School for the title.
This year, a total of 14 students will travel to Midlothian for the competition, with a region-high 12 entries. The team won the 4A North Region Championship March 7, competing against 18 schools and ultimately winning 68-37, once again over 2nd-place E.C. Glass.
Coach Ingerson said anyone wanting to see the All-State Salem High School Forensics Team in action is invited to Forensics Night in the Salem High School auditorium Thursday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m., which will serve as a preview to the team’s state championship appearance the following Saturday.
Salem Forensics 2015 Virginia High School League Team members
Ben Lewis (Junior), Poetry*
Emily Brown (Senior), Prose*
Jensen Blevins (Sophomore), Prose
Isaac Robertson (Sophomore), Storytelling*
Emma Studtmann (Sophomore), Storytelling*
Maya Cooke (Senior), Serious Dramatic*
Kyle Fauber (Sophomore), Serious Dramatic
Chris Pope (Senior), Humorous*
Samantha Kennedy (Freshman), Humorous*
Monica Sexton (Senior), Humorous Duo*
Lauren Wygal (Senior), Humorous Duo*
Sydney Pettit (Freshman), Humorous Duo
Will Poldiak (Sophomore), Humorous Duo
Caleb Turner (Junior), Serious Duo*
Ben Kennedy (Junior), Serious Duo*
Julie Mcknew (Junior), Original Oratory*
Hannah Bryant (Senior), Original Oratory
Jack Beedle (Junior), Extemporaneous Speaking*
Jake Johnson (Freshman), Impromptu Speaking
Jordi Shelton (Senior), Impromptu Speaking*
* denotes qualification for VHSL states on March 28