Checking In With Forensics


Seniors Payton Collins and Kylie Nelson smile after winning gold at a meet.

Forensics is back and ready for another successful year at Stoughton Highschool. Forensics is a public speaking club that includes various categories, including play acting, poetry, informative speeches, and many more. Students are able to pick a category of their choosing, prepare their presentation, and compete against other schools and students. With the teams first meet being January 29, the team is working hard to prepare to compete against other teams across the state.
First, meet the coach. Ruth Phillips is an art teacher and the forensics coach at SHS. Phillips has dedicated over two decades of her life to forensics. She was involved in forensics herself when she was in high school, judged forensics meets at the collegiate level, and has been a coach for the past twenty years. She is a member on the Wisconsin Forensics Association board where she communicates with other schools and helps things run smoothly across the state. Philips says that forensics is much more complicated than just getting up in front of a group and talking.
“There is demonstration, informative speeches, public address, extemporaneous speaking, and radio broadcasting. We have some categories that are readings (poetry, novels, other literature genres) and also play acting, solo acting, and storytelling,” Phillips says.
Phillips shares that forensics provides advantages outside of just gaining skills in public speaking.
“Having [forensics] on a college application holds a lot of weight. The competitive nature of forensics puts an edge on someone who’s applying for a job or college because it demonstrates that you are able to get up in front of a group, lead a group, and feel comfortable talking in front of other people,” Phillips says.
A typical week for a member of forensics includes practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays where team members work on their presentations individually, in front of small groups or in front of Phillips. The forensics team has published author Lynn Perez-Hewitt working with them this year, which Phillips says has been great for the team.
“She is a great resource for us. She has been assisting people with their cuttings and creating their introductions to their presentations,” Phillips says.
Over the course of the season, the team will attend around six meets. A typical meet has around 24 schools and each category has an assigned room for presentations. There is one judge and six-eight other people in there listening. Competitors compete in three rounds, and then the top performers are selected for the final “power” round. After this round the winner is selected. Phillip mentions that these meets can get very competitive.
“The more popular meet is the Friday Night Lights meet in Milton because you can win a light up trophy. We also have the Badger Conference meet which is very competitive,” Phillips says.
The “post season” goes from a sub district meet, to a district meet, and then finally the state meet. Stoughton has a history of success at the high level forensics meets. Most members qualify for state every year and 2021 SHS alum Raven Jensen recently won the cumulative gold award for taking gold at the state meet all four years.
Phillips says that this year has a strong cast of members ranging from freshman to seniors. While it is a competitive environment, Phillips says that forensics is very friendly and inclusive to all involved.
“I know a lot of students in the past who had a fear of public speaking and came out for forensics to overcome that fear. Everybody is interested in just coming together and helping each other out,” Phillips says.
Phillips adds that she is looking forward to seeing what this year holds in store for all of the competitors.
Of the core members is senior Kylie Nelson. Nelson has been competing since 6th grade and participates in the play acting category alongside senior Payton Collins.
“I have always loved performing, so forensics seemed right up my alley. I tried it, and haven’t stopped,” Nelson says.
While she says she loves the performing aspect of forensics, she says that the family aspect is her favorite.
“The sense of community is my favorite part. At meets, everyone competing is there to have a good time. The people are extremely friendly and everyone wants to lift each other up. It creates a really relaxed atmosphere, which makes the whole experience much more enjoyable,” Nelson says.
Nelson offers words of encouragement to those who may be thinking about trying
“I would tell someone that forensics is one hundred percent worth it. Anyone who likes public speaking would love forensics,” Nelson says. “There are so many different categories, there is something for everyone. It helps build confidence and speaking ability and is just a lot of fun.”