SHS Forensics still thriving after 10 championship victories

Coach Mark Ingerson helps Hannah Howell with her speech. Photos by Kelsey Bartlett.
Coach Mark Ingerson helps Hannah Howell with her speech. Photos by Kelsey Bartlett.
Members of the Salem High School Forensics Team believe a decade of dominance is just the beginning of their reign as state champions.

Last year, the team placed first in the state championship competition for the 10th year in a row. Rather than slow down, they are taking that momentum and running with it, as evidenced by their recent 81-20 victory over Kellam High School at the Fluvanna Invitational on Jan. 16.

Last Thursday afternoon, members of the team scattered across the second floor of the high school, where the threat of snow didn’t keep them from practicing and rehearsing their lines.

The forensics team competes in 10 Virginia High School League categories, such as oratory, poetry, interpretation of literature and improvisation. The season begins December, and ends the first week of April with the state championship competition.

Hannah Howell, who competes in the original oratory category, said she is proud to share her own words with others.

“I think it is very impactful, because I get to say what I think,” Howell said. “It’s really cool to have people want to hear what I have to say.”

Ben Lewis, one of the team’s three captains, is a senior this year, and has been on the team all four years of high school. He and co-captain Ben Kennedy, also a senior, placed first at the invitational in the duo improvisation category. Both won several other categories as well.

Adalyn Eller rehearses lines of prose.
Adalyn Eller rehearses lines of prose.
Senior Caleb Turner is the third captain, and placed first in the humorous duo category with Kyle Fauber.

Though Lewis and Kennedy first joined the team for different reasons, both agree they will carry the skills they’ve learned with them for the rest of their lives.

“Joining was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” Lewis said. “And here I am, four years later.”

Team members are quick to vocalize that a large part of their success is attributed to their coach, Mark Ingerson, who has been the backbone of team since his first year in 2001. Ingerson said he didn’t have a forensics team in high school, but was active in theatre.

“It’s the way we practice that makes us so successful,” Lewis said. “Without coach Ingerson, we wouldn’t be where we are. It’s a continuous cycle of new people learning, growing and then teaching the next set of students who come up.”

Team captain Ben Kennedy gives Isabel Baynum pointers.
Team captain Ben Kennedy gives Isabel Baynum pointers.
For Kennedy, who was already involved in theatre, forensics just came seemed like and obvious choice.

“Every season you start from the bottom,” Kennedy added. “In cross-country, you’re always going to have people who can run fast, and in football you’re going to have big guys who can push kids over, but in forensics, it’s kind of a weird skill, so you’re not going to have anyone who starts out fantastic.”

Ingerson said he is proud of the career fields former team members tend to lean towards, and said the skill of public speaking, as well as the confidence that they build from being on the team, is priceless.

“The ability to speak in public is a skill that will serve them well in life,” Ingerson said. “It a skill that will continue to lead them into job opportunities.”

Kennedy, for one, said he will be attending business school at Virginia Tech next year, and hopes to start his own small business some day.

“It just boosts your confidence,” Lewis added. “Speaking in front of people is a breeze. It just gives you so many skills that are irreplaceable for later in life.”

The team is looking to break Blacksburg High School’s record of 15 straight wins, which was achieved between 1989-2003. After that, the sky is the limit for how far the team’s dominance may continue.

“I think now, the tradition here goes back so many years that the kids feel the expectations of the past and the expectations of people who have been successful,” Ingerson said. “They don’t want to let that down. They want to be a part of that success.”

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