Campus Life

Mason’s Forensics Team Maintains Legacy of Success

By Rashad Mulla

With clear, crisp articulation and strong fact-based arguments, Mason senior Robert Warchol, cocaptain of the Mason Forensics Team, took home individual sweepstakes honors at the HFO (Hell Froze Over) National Invitational tournament held in January at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. This accomplishment capped a successful weekend for Mason, which also claimed top school honors at the invitational.

The Mason Forensics Team poses in Chicago during their recent trip. Photo courtesy of Mason Forensics.

The Mason Forensics Team poses in Chicago during their recent trip. Photo courtesy of Mason Forensics.

Thus, the university’s rich legacy in the art of speech continues.

Mason’s Forensics Team competes in an impressive variety of prestigious intercollegiate speech competitions nationally and internationally and is in a class of its own. Now in its 42nd year, the team has ranked in the national top 35 teams for 37 consecutive years and in the top five nationally for the past five years. Historically, the team has fared well in the big annual national forensics tournaments: the two-day HFO National Invitational, the L .E. Norton Memorial Tournament, and the American Forensic Association National Tournament.

During this year’s academic season, the team has already competed in 15 tournaments, ranking as the top team in 13 of them. This year alone, members of the team have placed in 438 speaking competitions, which include categories such as persuasive speaking, impromptu speaking, prose interpretation, and after dinner speaking.

Mason communication professor Peter Pober (front left), director of forensics, poses with the team seniors. Photo courtesy of Mason Forensics.

Mason communication professor Peter Pober (front left), director of forensics, poses with the team seniors. Photo courtesy of Mason Forensics.

The victories are only one side of the story. For Warchol, who is majoring in government and international politics, membership on the team was a natural next step in his life, considering his long-held passion for speech.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years, ever since I was a high school freshman back in Youngstown, Ohio,” Warchol says. “To be honest, a lot of the structure, style, citation methods, primary sources, and secondary sources in my speaking are invaluable and put me at an advantage from both a strict writing perspective and a public speaking perspective.”

In his 10 years at Mason, Peter Pober, director of forensics and professor in the Department of Communication, has seen students such as Warchol deliver meticulous, impassioned speeches in their quest to uphold Mason’s winning ways.

“I truly believe that our students are so dedicated to bringing honor to the university and continuing the legacy of the Forensics Team,” says Pober. “Our program is the longest sustained, successful team of any kind in Mason’s history, in terms of its longevity and consistency in the top tier of the country.”

To find these students, Pober, assistant director Jeremy Hodgson, a staff of graduate coaching assistants, and the team itself search far and wide. They recruit at high school tournaments and build connections with participants in Pober’s summer institute for high school students, the George Mason Institute of Forensics.

While more than 80 percent of Mason’s overall student population is from Virginia, more than 80 percent of the diverse Forensics Team is from other states, representing New Jersey, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona, to name a few. The team also has a student from India.

What it all comes down to is the highly valuable art of speaking. In a city such as Washington, D.C., where eloquence reigns supreme, these nearby forensics students keep their focus on learning the keys to a good speech.

“If you have confidence in yourself, no matter whether people think you are right are wrong, you will know that you have practiced so hard and so long that what you are saying is correct,” says Warchol. “In the case of Mason forensics, you are backed by 35 to 40 individuals, who are on your side, and Dr. Pober treats you not as a student, but as a colleague. This type of environment makes the feeling of spreading your message unbelievable.”

According to Pober, two additional factors determine a successful speech.

“You have to be willing to show your heart and be vulnerable, and you have to be passionate about what you are performing or speaking about,” he says. “And you really have to show me that you are up to the minute on the issue you are addressing. I want to clearly believe that this is something you are constantly researching, constantly editing, and constantly revising due to its importance to you.”

The team will compete in a variety of tournaments this spring, and will travel to Belgium over spring break for the International Forensics Association competitions in Brussels and Antwerp. In previous years, the team has competed in Rome, Budapest, and Berlin. The next big national tournament takes place at the end of March in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Both Pober and Warchol agree that this high level of public speaking practice helps students tremendously. Forensics has introduced Warchol to friends from around the country and opened several possible career options. Pober’s former forensics students have gone on to become government officials, directors of nonprofits, and university professors.

“I am so blessed to have been able to work with people who are changing the world,” says Pober. “I’ve just been a very, very lucky man to be able to watch them grow and to become not only better researchers, writers, and speakers, but in the long run, and perhaps far more important, better citizens.”

This article originally ran in a slightly different form on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences news page.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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