By Savannah Walsh
“Honestly, forensics is so much more than competing. You get to find yourself and your best friends. . .we’re more than just a team, we’re a family.” – Drake Evans
Echoes of laughter and tears and voices can be heard from the PAC forensics classroom. The sounds are curious as much as they are fantastic. This tradition of excellence begins and ends with Jacci Young, who has led the program for 32 years. The activity has reached new heights of success under Young’s direction, who encourages students to face their insecurities and turn them into entertainment. This intense, almost athletic style of coaching has made staying in the program all four years difficult but highly rewarding for the remaining seniors in the class of 2015.
Four years ago, 57 fresh faced and eager novices tumbled through their first year as high school competitors. Today, nine slightly weathered but all the more wise seniors reflect on what it takes to put one’s soul into something that, four years later, is still often shrouded in mystery. Lauren Cronin, Alex David, Drake Evans, Ameres Groves, Jasmine Peterson, Elijah Reynolds, Davian Watson, Kezia Wesley, and Kelsy Wilkinson attempted to answer the question on everyone’s mind: what makes these students want to dedicate their high school careers to competitive performance, when over a third of their teammates opted to leave? “Honestly, forensics is so much more than competing. You get to find yourself and your best friends. . .we’re more than just a team, we’re a family”, duo and Humorous Acting performer Evans summed up. In fact, amongst such a varied group of individuals, one sentiment is unanimous: the team’s bond runs deeper than just being classmates. “What made me stay was the joy it brings for me when I just hang out with the people. Everyone is an upbeat, semi-positive person that you just want to be around all the time,” echoed duo actor, Watson. The sense of connection and shelter each senior has found in the other is admirable and rare in such a huge graduating class, but the high turnover rate indicates that the challenges facing the nine are daunting.
Duo and prose reading contestant Cronin notes that while competing on a weekly basis leaves her “fulfilled,” the rigorous ten or more competitions a year certainly take a toll. “You always have a passion for it but sometimes the passion burns out a little bit. I think finding the passion again to go out and compete and find a new piece and staying after school every day to rehearse is tiring.” The average tournament lasts Friday nights and all day Saturday with up to four rounds of hour and a half competing. For Evans, the biggest stress comes from within the classroom. “It’s not fair for anyone to have their grade based off of how well they can act, granted, you are going to have some weak links. It’s having these 1400 point assignments that have to be super in depth and super detailed that cause stress,” Evans said. Between the weekend competitions, after school practices, and major in-class assignments, one can see why the urge to participate in a less demanding activity is appealing. But for those willing to play what many referred to as the “mind game” that is forensics, leaving is simply not an option. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to a point where I really wanted to stop,” stated prose and poetry participant Wilkinson.
One gets the distinct feeling that the game would be quite different without the coach, who has fostered the talent of her seniors from the beginning. Most were at a loss for words when asked about their high-strung leader, and spoke of her as more of a mother and less of a mentor when the thoughts did come. Watson sees Young as a visionary of sorts: “She creates a bond that is close-knit. There are a lot of connections and a lot of hidden connections that we don’t know about and we still will wonder in the middle of the night—how does she get this done?” Wilkinson’s description was much more to the point: “She has this ‘Ms. Young’ vibe about her that everyone knows about, even if you only had her for a semester.”
For a team with such a familial atmosphere and celebrated teacher, forensics can be viewed as a sanctuary for those who don’t fit anywhere else. Some think it is just about memorizing lines for a few competitions. But most don’t think about it at all—at least not like they would if it took place on a field or in a band that has its own bumper stickers. For a program that placed three students in the top ten in the nation for their respective events this past summer, the lack of attention can be disheartening. “Of course I wish forensics got more recognition because if it’s not the most, it’s one of the most successful programs our school has ever had and people don’t realize that,” said poetry competitor Wesley. The frustration was especially evident in Evan and Cronin’s tone as they placed second in the state for their duo—and have heard little congratulations outside of their team and families. “We work just as hard (as athletic and music programs) in different ways. On big tournament weeks we will stay here after school until 8 at night practicing. We put just as much time in as band and football do. People don’t understand,” Cronin sighed. Evans chuckled, “We’ve had nervous breakdowns. The football team is so physical, but we are so mental. We shed real tears over things.” But this is not an opinion all seniors share. Watson doesn’t let others comments bother him and referred to the team’s anonymous nature as a special “melting pot.”
A quiet dust settles over the group, and a humorously melancholy thought ties everyone together: separating off and doing individual things. Cronin realizes, “This is all kind of bittersweet. The four years are coming to an end.” On cue, Evans smiles, “Are you breaking up with me?”