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January 24, 2012 > Wow, what a weekend!

Wow, what a weekend!

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Doris Nikolaidis

The 19th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Invitational Forensics Tournament took place January 13 - 15. Located at James Logan High School in Union City, this competition is ranked one of the top in the country.

Enthusiastic students from 88 schools descended on the campus Friday evening. Mississippi sent one contingent; others represented Washington, Colorado, and Wyoming. Entrants, 1700 in number, were a diverse group. The Logan contingent was 200 strong.

Competitors wore typical high school attire, until the competitions began. Then a transformation occurred. Female contestants wore black jackets, white shirts, black skirts or slacks, and stockings with black high heels. Their male counterparts donned black suits, white shirts, ties, and black dress shoes. Tournament founder, Tommie Lindsey, has a strict dress code.

All were ready to compete. And compete they did.

Contestants compete in three categories: varied debate events, congress, and individual events. Debate events included Lincoln-Douglas style, public forum, policy debate, and parliamentary. Participants wrote proposed legislation for the Congress competition that "they feel will better the society in which they live." Individual events consisted of eleven categories, among them humorous, creative, and serious; all required much research, writing, and practice. Serious debate topics included: "A bill banning the use of aerial drones by the United States and a resolution calling for the end of the war on drugs."

The award ceremony concluded the weekend. During the ceremony, an announcement was made for a future event, the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions. Logan will host this competition May 11 - 13. Richard Valle, local businessman and civic leader, made a generous donation to help defray JLHS's expenses for this event. The complete list of winners is available at the "joy of tournaments" website listed at the end of the article.

The history of Logan's forensics began in 1988 when Tommie Lindsey arrived at James Logan High School. In his previous work with Alameda County Juvenile Hall and teaching at El Rancho Verde, an alternative high school in Union City, he had seen the power of communication using debate. As a communications major and graduate of the University of San Francisco, Lindsey had an understandable predilection for speech.

Lindsey was ready to start forensics at Logan when he arrived on campus and in the first year, 14 students enrolled. Today approximately 200 are involved in the program. Lindsey's teaching style encourages students to work with personal experiences and challenges to find their potential. Through forensics, Lindsey's program has positively impacted many students.

Honors have come both to Lindsey and the forensics teams which have won national championships several times. Lindsey was honored on the Oprah show March 15, 2003, when he received the "Use Your Life Award" for the forensics team; the prize was $100,000. Another recognition for Lindsey was the documentary about him, "Accidental Hero - Room 408." The lead-in for this film stated, "Public speaking and interpretation are changing kids' lives."

The Colorado forensics coach at the MLK Forensics tournament said Lindsey's program provided a model that he chose to emulate.

Despite its positive features, the future for forensics is not rosy. Economic challenges face this acclaimed program in today's school budget crisis. Primary costs are tournament fees, travel, and other tournament-related costs. Students are responsible for expenses not covered by the team. For this reason, fundraising is critical. If you wish to support the program, the Logan forensics website is included below.

Volunteers, adults and students, also donate time to the success of the program. Two alums from the working world return annually to volunteer. Greg Marsh, a Gonzaga graduate, and Karen Joshi, a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, both with four years in the Logan program, gave it credit for college and job successes. Marsh now works in the Marketing Department for Stanford University Athletics. Joshi, after a few years of part-time work, now has acquired a full time job. They agreed that forensics empowered them, especially with the job interview process. Joshi commented that interviewers reminded her of the forensic judges.

Jessica Mutch and Rachel McDermott, alums still in college, also credit Logan forensics as helping with college admission interviews and instilling confidence. Both return when they can to assist.

Parent volunteers are the backbone of the program. Many work for months of preparation; others help during the tournament weekend. Lauretta McCarthy mainly coordinated the volunteers and managed the snack bar. Florence Graham recruited the judges for the competition and Ann Allison-Marsh trained them. All three proved to be multi-taskers and "jack-of-all-trades."

Lindsey's talent and perseverance are revealed in another aspect of Logan Forensics. Forty percent of Logan students go to college. Forensics students average 90 - 95 percent; of these 80 go to four-year colleges and the remaining 10 - 15 choose community colleges and other programs.

Forensics manages to prepare young orators for their college and career worlds; the confidence they gain in critical thinking, learning to do research, team work, and confidence in public speaking are invaluable. Enumerable alumni attested to this.

Although in the early years, skeptics thought lower achieving kids would be unable to compete successfully, Lindsey believed otherwise. He knew these "kids could do it." Thus, students of all levels have realized their dreams.

To find out more about the James Logan Forensics Program or to support their efforts, please visit the following websites:

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