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Speech and Debate Team Places 13th at National Competition

Belmont University’s Speech and Debate team is accustomed to winning, but this week the 2012 Tennessee state champions took their success to a new level by turning the heads of national competitors.

Founded more than a decade ago, the team earned 13th place in the nation at the American Forensics Association NIET Tournament at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Belmont competed with only four students against a field of 83 teams, besting such impressive, larger schools as James Madison University, Northwestern, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin – one of the founders of the American Forensics Association.

In addition to the team achievement, Senior Communication Studies Major Eric Schoen earned third place out of 148 competitors in Prose Interpretation – the first time in Belmont forensics history a student has placed this high in the national competition. “This is the best performance of any Speech and Debate team since the inception of the program,” said Mary Vaughn, the team’s founder and professor of Communication Studies. “While we have won back-to-back titles in the national Christian tournament, we have never performed at this level in the American Forensics Association competition. With only four competitors, Belmont beat out much larger schools that were able to field much larger teams.

“Our four students advanced to quarter-finals in nine events,” she added. “This is a huge step forward for our forensics program.”

Belmont’s Quarter-Finalists were:

  • Eric Schoen with Katie Callaway in Duo Interpretation;
  • Nicole Bright with Katie Callaway in Duo Interpretation;
  • Nicole Bright in Poetry Interpretation, After Dinner Speaking, and Prose Interpretation;
  • Eric Schoen in Prose Interpretation (which placed third overall); and
  • Matthew Roberts in Impromptu Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking, and Communication Analysis.

Belmont’s Forensics Director Jason Stahl said, “I was blown away by the performance of our students. Competing against some teams that were at least twice our size, we made the most of what we had with all of our students making it to the quarter-finals and in multiple events. I simply cannot say enough about their accomplishment – something that did not go unnoticed by coaches from larger schools.”

With more than 500 students competing, Belmont’s David-and-Goliath moment drew comments from fellow coaches.

Dawn Lowry, who coaches at Western Kentucky University and is on the AFA-NIET Committee, observed, “Given how difficult it is to even qualify to attend the National Tournament, to be considered among the best of a field of champions is indicative of the immense dedication from the students, coaches, and administration of Belmont University.”