Sports fans often talk about dynasties – teams that seemingly dominate a sport or league, perennially contending for championship trophies.
Dynasties happen outside of the sports arenas, too. A perfect example: competitive speech at Southeastern Illinois College. The school’s competitive speaking team — officially known as forensics — not only won the national collegiate championship this year, but has placed in the top four in 26 of the last 36 years. SIC also was national champion in 1986 and 2005.
“I think dynasty perfectly describes it because it doesn’t matter who comes into the program,” explains Galatia’s Nick Triplett, a member of the 2021 national championship team. “I think it speaks to the how well the coaches work with us, the quality of speeches we give and how everyone perfectly fits into the organization.”
SIC’s latest achievement – winning the 2021 championship earlier this year – was no small accomplishment. Because of changes to the format of the tournament as a result of COVID-19, the college originally was not even sure the 11-member team would participate in the national tournament.
The team was honored at a reception Wednesday at the college. State Rep. Patrick Windhorst shared a House of Representatives resolution recognizing the group's achievement.
“This past year, everything changed,” explained SIC Director of Forensics Jenny Billman. “The model of competition that we had used for 50 years was gone. We didn’t know if we would be able to compete at all, but then to be not only able to compete, but to have the success we did, was incredible.”
Billman said while accolades for SIC’s success often is directed to her, the program’s two other coaches and the students, credit belongs to the entire community college.
“I think our campus community works together better than most. When we switched to virtual competition this year, it was all hands on-deck,” she said. “The IT department helped us with computers and bandwidth, our events coordinator helped finding separate performance spaces, we had alumni help with virtual coaching and our administration helped to make it all work.”
In competitive speaking, students compete against representatives of other colleges and universities in a variety of categories ranging from memorized speeches to interpretative readings, impromptu and extemporaneous topics and debate. Competitors participate in up to four events, with each event requiring multiple presentations during a tournament.
The SIC speakers routinely compete against teams from institutions including Yale, Vanderbilt, the Air Force Academy and others.
“Being small is actually a massive advantage for us. Everybody here knows everybody else and everybody gets individual attention,” Billman said. “We are underdogs, but that puts us in a great spot because we don’t have to be afraid. For us, it’s a matter of why not go for it?”
“SIC has a long tradition of competitive speech and debate, and this latest national championship is testament to the continued excellence the program has demonstrated,” SIC President Jonah Rice said. “To win this in spite of a pandemic, besting colleges from California to New York, Texas to Florida, is amazing. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Rice was a member of the very first SIC National Champion team of 1986, and this year, his daughter Haley was a member of the third SIC team to win nationals.
“I definitely appreciate having him understand the work that is put in and what it truly means to actually win the national tournament,” said Haley Rice about her dad.
Triplett, who will continue his collegiate studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale this fall, said he is proud to have been part of the team and his participation has taught him not only to better communicate, but also to understand others.
“It has allowed me to see different perspectives of what’s going on in our community and world and how I can hopefully make a difference,” he said.