ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
While a lot of Kansas high schools are just recovering from basketball’s “March Madness,” Marion High School is in the throes of “Forensics Fever.”
At a lot of schools, forensics is a quiet program, flying below the radar of public interest. But at Marion, with 30 team members participating this spring, the program is growing-and fellow students are taking note, according to team sponsor Janet Killough.
“One thing I like about (the program) now is that the kids at the high school are very supportive of the forensics team,” she said. “They ask about the team. When I go into the grocery store on a Saturday night, they’ll ask, ‘How’d the team do?’ At school, they’ll come into my room and ask me, and they’ll ask the kids on the team.
“That’s a lot different than what it’s been in the past.”
When Killough took over the program some 10 to 12 years ago, she started with only two team members.
Today, the program is among the best in the area. Of the four meets the team has competed in so far this season, they have won two titles, placed second at another meet and third at the other.
What’s the secret to Killough’s success?
“I wish I knew,” she said, “because I’d write a book and become rich and famous. I don’t know what the secret is. It’s not that I’m so talented. I just love my kids, and I love forensics, and I want everyone else to love it as much as I do.”
Killough did say part of the reason for her team’s success in competition may be her insistence on excellence.
“I do not accept a mediocre performance,” she said. “I constantly and consistently push students to do their very best.
“I have yet to see a perfect performance,” she added. “Many of them are pretty doggone close, but I expect them to continue to improve through hard work.
“I also believe we are successful because we have a good time,” she added. “It is a mixture of work and play. They know I believe in every one of them, and even though I am tough on them, they know they always have my support-100 percent.”
Killough said the goal of her program is to qualify students for State Champs, the year-end meet where students compete to be No. 1 in their category. She downplays the State Festival, where students simply perform for a rating.
“I will enter kids (in Festival) if they really want to,” Killough said. “But they have this burning desire for State Champs.
“The sad part is that since we can only enter 16 at state, some of them don’t get the opportunity to perform. But they all go with us to support.”
With five more meets to go, 11 students have already qualified for State Champs: Tim Schuler, in solo serious, impromptu duet acting and duet acting; Megan Whitaker, in duet acting; Becky Taylor, in solo humorous and prose; Sarah Davidson, in informative speech; Josh Fruechting, in extemporaneous speaking; Ive Eddy, in poetry and solo serious; Renae Lundgren, in oration; Justin Brookens, in impromptu duet acting; Amanda Steiner, in poetry; Joe Svitak, in prose; and Chelsea Arnhold, in solo humorous.
“They are allowed to enter in two categories for Champs or Festival, so several will have to make some tough choices by the end of the season,” Killough said.
And those choices may multiply. Once a student qualifies for Champs in one area, they must find another area in which to compete.
“Everybody’s goal is to qualify in all nine events,” she said. “The record set (at MHS) was qualifying for State Champs in eight categories in one season.
“Once they qualify in one area, they must do something different. It’s not that I want them to stop working in it. I want them to stretch a little and do another category, which will make them better in the one that they’re really good in.
“They get pretty versatile.”
Killough believes strongly in her program.
“Forensics provides a lifelong skill,” she said. “I really believe that what the kids learn in forensics, they’re going to use the rest of their lives. They’re going to be in front of church groups, they’re going to be asked to be an officer in an organization….
“They’re going to be able to think on their feet. They’re going to be able to speak so that others understand what they’re saying. They’re going to be interesting people to talk to.”
The only sad thing she said she sees is that forensics isn’t a spectator sport-yet.
“I think it’s because people don’t understand what it is, and they don’t realize they can come and watch. That’s one thing we’re trying to do, too. We have a lot of parents who come and follow our kids at forensics meets. And that really just started last year.”