|Members of the forensics team at St. Joseph School celebrate their victories at a diocesan forensics program tournament held earlier in the school year. This is the 25th anniversary of the forensics program in the Diocese of Nashville.
As a middle school student at Holy Rosary Academy, Liz Haynes learned to stand on a stage before an audience of judges and speak confidently and with passion, competing in the diocesan forensics program.
She competed in in TV Broadcasting, Mime, Poetry, Duet Acting, Dramatic Interpretation and One Act Plays, among other categories.
At Father Ryan High School, where she graduated in 2013, and now at Clemson University in South Carolina, where she is double majoring in theater and Spanish, Haynes has moved backstage. But her time in forensics sent her down the path she’s now walking.
“Even though I’m not front and center like I was in forensics, my involvement definitely influenced my decision to study theater,” she said.
She’s not alone. Countless students have benefitted from participating in the diocesan Forensics League, which is entering its 25th year.
In 1990, Carolyn Baker had just moved to Nashville from Chattanooga, and had coached forensics in Chattanooga’s public schools. She saw what her students in Chattanooga gained from their involvement, and wanted to replicate it in the diocesan school district in Nashville when she became a teacher at Overbrook School.
“Kids just get so much out of their involvement,” she said. “They learn how to accept rejection. They learn how to accept criticism and move on. They learn how to win gracefully. And they make new friends from other schools.”
She introduced the idea to former diocesan School Superintendent Steve Hammond, and he approved. Baker hosted the first interest meeting in September of that year.
“There were six or seven people, including me, at that first meeting. I remember Larry Langley from Christ the King and Rita LaRue from St. Ann’s being very excited. They were instrumental in getting everything up and running. I’m also thankful that Mr. Hammond was so supportive of us. He didn’t know what forensics was about, but he was open to it and trusted that the other teachers and I knew what we were doing.”
Although Baker left Nashville in 2002, her work has touched hundreds of people’s lives. Laura Yankee is one such person.
|Carolyn Baker, left, started the diocesan forensics program while a teacher at Overbrook School. She is pictured with Ellie Vaughn, one of the many alums of the program. The 25th year of the program will conclude with the championship tournament on March 20 at St. Ann School.
As a middle school student at St. Ann School, forensics helped her gain confidence and to learn how to communicate clearly. As a teacher and current forensics coach at St. Pius X Classical Academy, she is helping her students develop those same skills and traits.
“Being a forensics coach at St. Pius X has been so gratifying,” Yankee said. “Together with my fellow teacher and forensics coach, Ms. Jillian Teder, we have seen students who were once shy become confident in tournaments and in the classroom setting. It has developed another level of community as the students love to work together and help each other improve their pieces.
“They have learned so much and will continue to take what they are learning and apply it in high school and beyond,” she said. “There is no better reward than seeing your students grow and take,” said Claire Zanger, who graduated from St. Joseph School in 2009, also gained confidence in public speaking during her time in forensics. But she also gained many friendships from her involvement.
“Middle school can be rough socially, because you’re growing up and trying to fit in with everyone else,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to do forensics during that time, because my teammates became my friends.”
Hundreds of students continue to flock to the program every year. “We currently have about 200 kids in forensics right now, and 13 grade schools,” said Chris Melton, Holy Rosary Academy teacher and president of the Forensics League.
St. Bernard Academy, Sacred Heart School of Lawrenceburg, St. Henry, St. Ann, Christ the King, Overbrook, St. Matthew, St. Pius X, St. Rose, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph, Holy Rosary, and St. Edward are all member schools.
The league has big plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding. “At each tournament, we’re having drawings for students and judges to win door prizes,” Melton said. “We’re also having a contest for students to come up with a motto and t-shirt design, so people know what we’re about.
“A lot of people who don’t know what forensics is about think we do DNA testing at crime scenes,” she laughed. “We want to clear up the confusion.”
Eight tournaments are scheduled for this year. At the Feb. 20 Coaches’ Choice tournament at Holy Rosary, alumni of the program will be speaking about the impact forensics has had on their lives. Baker will also be attending.
She credits the diocesan forensics coaches for helping the program have long term success.
“One sign of a successful program is if it continues after you leave. And I know the forensics program wouldn’t even exist now if it wasn’t for the support of Steve Hammond and that core group of teachers who were all in from the beginning,” Baker said. “They weren’t paid to be a part of this. They were sacrificing their free time to help make it work for the kids. They were willing to host the competitions at their schools; and it takes a lot of work to arrange those tournaments. No man is an island, and there’s no way I could’ve made this happen without them.”
The schedule of upcoming forensics tournaments are at Overbrook School, 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6., • Coaches’ Choice, Holy Rosary Academy, 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and the Championship, St. Ann School, 8 a.m. Saturday, March 20.