NIU speech team successful

By Lynn Rogers

Though it’s not the most visible group on campus, the NIU speech team is one of the most successful.

Talent and hard work propelled the individual events portion of the team to win fifth place in the American Forensics Association’s recent national tournament. That top finish, out of 135 schools, was the best showing the team has ever had in national competition.

Three NIU speakers had especially strong showings—senior Greg Soloman finished ninth in the country, senior Jeff Przybylo finished eleventh and junior Katie Donohue finished nineteenth in the nation. Five speakers represented NIU in the finals with a combined total of 17 speeches.

NIU forensics president Przybylo credited much of the team’s success to the individual events coach, Judy Santacaterina, and her assistants. “It’s Judy—she’s been doing this for 12 years,” he said. “And we don’t do what we do to win trophies. If we win trophies that’s great, but we learn the basics. Some teams use tricks to impress judges; our stuff comes from knowing how to do it.”

Santacaterina believes the success of this year’s team stemmed from many sources. “A lot of it has to do with the assistant coaches—Lisa Turner and Kelly Delucany,” she said. “Jeff, Katie and Greg are also experienced competitors with three years of national competition under their belts. They’re versatile kids and above all, hard workers.”

Santacaterina said the team is an integral part of NIU. According to Santacaterina, the forensics team was founded in 1920 and includes both individual events and debate catagories. 70 students comprise this year’s team, about 20 of whom are in individual events.

“We’re just one big happy organization,” Santacaterina said. “This is the best we’ve ever done and I’m so proud of everyone – they deserve it.”

Qualifying for the AFA competition is a task in itself. “It’s very difficult to qualify for. You spend a lot of time trying to get to the tournament,” she said, adding, “But we’ve been blessed with a lot of talent.”

Przybylo, who competed throughout high school and in his four years at NIU, echoed his coach’s beliefs. “To qualify for nationals you must finish in the top 10 percent of your other tournaments. Just getting there is an honor.”

Competition at the national level is fierce, he said. Initially, students give their speeches and are ranked, a process they go through three times. After scores are added, the top 24 ranks are put into the quarterfinals. “I went into my quarters thinking ‘I’m dead. I’m outta here’,” Przybylo said. “When you get down to the semis and finals, it’s unbelievable—these people are so much better.”

The individual events in forensics vary greatly. NIU had third place finishes in the dramatic duo, prose reading and after-dinner categories, and scored high in poetry, oral interpretation and persuasion.

Forensics team members log hours of practice time during the weeks in the forensic office in Watson 232. There is no standard practice schedules as such; students are free to practice individually when they have time. “It’s the type of activity that really works around your schedule—whatever you think is necessary to get experience,” Santacaterina explained.

According to Santacaterina, students come in an average of two hours a week during the regular season and at least once a day before tournaments. Students may compete against 100 schools in a season, she said.

Przybylo said he puts in “five hours of solid time for two weeks before nationals. We did our homework and practiced speech—that’s about it. We were focused and concentrated on what we wanted to do.”

In addition to their regular-season events, the forensics program holds a summer camp for interested high school students. “We’re looking forward to this summer. It’s the third summer we’ve offered the camp,” Santacaterina said. “It gives us a sense of continuity and togetherness. Some kids who have gone to the camp are coming to NIU next year, so it’s a great recruitment tool.”

Przybylo believes part of the team’s strength comes from the recruitment efforts. “The thing that gets me angry is that no one knows about it (the team). Our forensics program brings students to NIU,” he said.

Santacaterina said all students are welcome to join the SA funded team at any point in the school year. Students need not be intimidated, she added. “Initially, when you come in, we’ll make suggestions for categories of speaking. We start off where you may have an inkling for and offer opportunities to experiment with a variety of speaking,” she said.

Although two of the team’s top speakers, Solomon and Przybylo, are graduating, next year’s team also has a lot of talent, Santacaterina said, adding Donohue and sophomore Dawn Lawary will be driving forces.

Santacaterina, who graduated from NIU in 1978 and also teaches a communications class, enjoys her job as speech team coach. “For me, it really is a labor of love,” she said.