For 11 consecutive years, the Salem High School Forensics Team has dominated any and all competition. On Saturday, the team secured its title as the reigning state champion, beating John Handley High School, 40-17, in a field of 20 teams.
Led by coach Mark Ingerson, who began coaching at SHS in 2001, members of the team compete in categories such as impromptu speaking and oratory as well as poetry and interpretation, where members competitively interpret sections of literature.
Though he has coached the team through over a decade of victories, Ingerson said the job never gets old, noting that he is less nervous about competition now than he was when he first began coaching.
“I wanted the 11th to feel like the first, and if you see and hear the reactions of the team on the Twitter videos, I think it really felt that way,” Ingerson said. “I always have the same excitement for a student winning a state title, whether it is 2016 or 2004. It is still a total rush, because you know all the work that went into that accomplishment.”
Four seniors, Ben Lewis, Jack Beedle, Ben Kennedy and Caleb Turner, all won state championships. Ingerson said losing this year’s group of seniors will be very bittersweet.
“This is arguably the most successful senior group I’ve ever graduated. The four boys all have been state finalists for all four years. I’ve only had 11 students do that and four of them are in this class,” Ingerson said. “They have a combined 10 state championships and four runners-up between them. They have eaten and slept forensics. They were very excited, but at the same time realizing their careers had come to an end.”
Ingerson said the atmosphere was permeated with nervous energy and tension as students held hands, waiting to hear how they placed during the awards ceremony.
For Lewis, the win was his fourth state championship in four years, which this year he won in the Impromptu Speaking category. He has previously won in Storytelling, Humorous and Poetry categories, and is the second person in Virginia High School League history, since 1913, to win four events in four years.
Beedle won in the Extemporaneous Speaking category, and has previously won Impromptu and Extemporaneous the last two seasons.
“I cared far more when the other three seniors won than when I won,” Beedle said. “My goal was more about carrying on the traditions established by the seniors when I was a freshman than my own personal success.”
Kennedy won his second state championship in Serious Duo, which he performed with sophomore partner AnnElese Galleo, for a piece entitled “Lost Souls, Starboard Ho!” about a couple coping with the loss of their daughter.
“It is humbling being able to see the work of a lot of people you care about coming to fruition, be it people on your team, people you have watched grow, or competitors that you have grown with over the years,” Kennedy said. “Being a senior captain, I was expected to teach a lot. What I never thought about was how much I would learn. These past four years have made me strive for constant, never-ending improvement and help others to do the same.”
Turner won his first state title, winning in the Humorous Interpretation category for his pieces following a boy detective named “Reggie Wilson,” who tries to prove that his teachers are robots.
“Forensics has meant so much to me in the past four years. Sure, there are tangible qualities that I have gained, such as well as the ability to act. But more than that, it has taught me how to be confident in myself,” Turner said. “I used to be terrified of the ability to speak publicly, as performance– now I revel in it.”
Junior Emma Studtmann won her first state championship in Poetry Interpretation, which has been a crowd favorite for her humorous selection about women dealing with relationship problems.
Ingerson is used to rebuilding his team each year, and said momentum is on the team’s side.
“I think now, we are at a point where students are coming from middle school with a goal to be on this team, so I’m confident that we will continue our success,” Ingerson said. “It may look different and we may have some new faces, but we will do what we’ve always done: train them and find the event they can be most successful in.”