North Central College’s forensics program made College history in April 2013 at two national tournaments, advancing further and placing higher than ever before as a team.
At the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) held April 5-8 at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, North Central’s team placed the highest ever—13th of 78 teams, with individuals ranking in top positions. To date, the highest placement for the team at the AFA-NIET competition was 15th in 1999.
The second national contest was the National Forensics Association (NFA) National Championship Tournament held April 18-22 at Marshall University in Huntington, W.V. North Central’s team placed the highest ever on a national level here, too, claiming National Champion in the President’s Division I, winning sixth place overall among 79 colleges and universities, and crowning an individual National Champion, Ben Davis ’14.
North Central attends both the AFA and NFA, which are the “pinnacle” of forensic activity, says Richard Paine, professor of speech communication/theatre and director of forensics. Paine is also NFA Vice President for Professional Development and Central Representative to the AFA-NIET Committee.
“The fact that we attend both tournaments and do well at both not only elevates our program but also highlights North Central College in both contexts as an example of forensics excellence in the country,” says Paine.
The AFA-NIET tournament is very difficult to qualify for, says John Stanley, director of individual events, assistant professor of speech communication, assistant director of forensics and member of the NFA Ethics Committee. Students must place in the top 3 in their event at three different tournaments over the course of the competitive season, September to March. Eight North Central students qualified in the most events ever—28.
“The team’s hard work and commitment to speaking and performance excellence has truly paid off. I’m incredibly proud of them. This is only the fourth time the team has placed in the top 20 at the AFA,” says Stanley. Students compete against every student at this event, no matter the size of the school, which included The Ohio State University, Northwestern University, Rice University and many more.
Individual students achieved standout placements, too. David DePino ’13, majoring in speech communication and history, was the 17th-ranked forensics student in the entire nation out of 200 students who qualified in five or more events during the season. He was semi-finalist in three events—Persuasive Speaking, Impromptu Speaking and Extemporaneous Speaking—and all three were in the top 10 in the country. DePino also finished in the top 24 in Informative Speaking.
TJ Simmons ’13 finished 29th in Persuasive Speaking and John Arrington ’16 finished 29th in After Dinner Speaking. Cody Follis ’13 ranked 30th in Dramatic Interpretation. Others who placed in the top 100: Ben Davis ’14, Rachel West ’15, Hailey Simmons ’16 and Abbi Van Hook ’16.
The NFA was the final national competition of the season and 11 students qualified: the eight mentioned above and Anne Green ’14, Emily Johnson ’16, Grace Morris ’16 and Joshua Zellar ’16.
The team’s sixth place finish in the nation is the highest ever by a North Central team; the previous was seventh place by the 1996-1997 team. The team’s National Champion in the President’s Division I (divisions are based on the size of the school’s qualifying entries) wasn’t the only first place trophy.
Ben Davis ’14, majoring in musical theatre and interactive media studies, was an individual winner and National Champion, taking first place in Dramatic Interpretation. “This was only the second individual national title earned at either the NFA or AFA in North Central history,” says Paine. “The previous title was in Rhetorical Criticism in 1988.”
Rachel West ’15 was a finalist and claimed sixth place in Informative Speaking. DePino finished in the quarter-finals in Impromptu Speaking, quarter-finals in Informative Speaking, semi-finals in Extemporaneous Speaking and semi-finals in Rhetorical Criticism. Each student began preliminary rounds in their event competing against 130-200 students, with just 24 advancing to quarter-finals, then 12 to semi-finals and the top six in the finals.
After the NFA tournament, two other Illinois coaches noted to Paine and Stanley that North Central’s finish was “an impressive team finish by a group of wonderful, kind and classy individuals. North Central will always be a beacon of true forensic education.”