Groves forensics team wins state championship

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 17, 2017

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BEVERLY HILLS — The Groves High School forensics team took home the Michigan state forensics title with a win at the state finals at Eastern Michigan University April 28 and 29.

Four members of the team — senior Kendall Hall, senior Halle Tilotti, junior Victoria Lurz and sophomore Lauren Emerick — placed first in their individual categories at states.

Forensics is an often-overlooked high school activity, but many regard it as one of the most intellectually challenging and rewarding programs.

“We are a competitive public speaking team,” explained senior Sophie Erlich. “There’s two different kinds of public speaking: Public address is more formal and informational, while oral interpretation is more dramatic and about storytelling. We compete between January and April.”

Those who take part in forensics say it provides a wide array of lifelong skills that are beneficial both in high school and after.

“It’s an incredible life skill,” said team co-coach John Rutherford. “Beyond public speaking, it teaches self-reflection, the value of vision, and perseverance. The skills learned and worked on each week can go on to make or break someone’s successful career later in life.”

All events are timed and must be performed within the parameters and specifications established by the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association, the overseeing body of teams like Groves’ since 1917.

Forensics teams compete in several preliminary regional competitions before qualifying for the state competition. At each competition, all competitors are judged in three preliminary rounds before moving on to a semifinal round and then a final round if they score high enough.

Competitors make their presentations one at a time before a judge. The judge then evaluates the presentation on factors such as vocal performance, physical performance, writing, editing and how each compares with the other competitors.

There are 14 different events in the competition, including prepared presentations — covering informative, oratory and sales subcategories; limited preparation presentations — covering extemporaneous, storytelling, and impromptu and prose presentations; and oral interpretation presentations — which cover dramatic interpretation, dual student performances, multiple student performances, poetry, prose and storytelling.

“I do oratory, which is persuasive speaking, and you try to talk about a problem and discuss solutions,” said Erlich. “Mine this year was talking about superbugs and antibiotic-resistant strains.”

“I do interpretation,” added sophomore Jordan Davis. “We had a group that condenses a movie or play down to 15 minutes. We cut it down and perform it while having to maintain as much of the content as possible.”

“Informational is talking unbiased about a certain topic,” said sophomore Sophie Dara. “I did virtual health care, for instance, and I had to inform people about the ins and outs of the subject.”

Rutherford said his students performed particularly well this year because many of them were well-versed in how to succeed in the activity from previous years.

“We had a lot of students come in with experience from last year,” said Rutherford. “When I came in five years ago as head coach, it was sort of a rebuilding year, but by now we’re able to hit the ground running and say from day one we want to be competitive.”

The students on the team say the advantages of joining the team are numerous and can be quite fun.

“It’s a great way to learn about something,” said Erlich. “You really want to learn about a topic and discover everything about it because you want to be part of the team, not because a teacher is making you. Forensics is competitive, but that’s not why people join,” said Erlich. “You learn so many things, like discipline, how to come out of your shell, how to form arguments, ask yourself if something contradicts your argument. Public speaking is the No. 1 fear in America, and performing this way is the perfect way to overcome that.”

Several of the team members said forensics is often misunderstood by those who aren’t familiar with it, but it has become perhaps their favorite part of school.

“It’s way different than people think it is, even people at this school,” said Davis. “I didn’t know any of the categories going in. I thought it was just dressing up nice and giving speeches. One of the girls on the team said I would be perfect for a (multiple-person presentation), and I joined in and loved it. Forensics teaches you so many things in life.”

Rutherford said he has seen few students as deserving of the state title as his current team.

“It’s a state championship title, and often students don’t get the recognition they deserve from succeeding at that level as other activities like sports do,” said Rutherford. “These kids worked hard and really earned this.”