College forensics team makes a strong argument

John Riggs, 33, right, of Woodstock debates a topic during forensics team practice at Lord Fairfax Community College while teammates Colt Scott, 20, left, of Strasburg and Sunny Moore, 19, of Linden look on. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN — It isn’t easy keeping one’s cool when faced with the unknown, but that’s exactly what members of the forensics team at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown do on a regular basis.

Using their skills of research, debate, public speaking and improvisation, team members have taken on opponents in several East Coast competitions each semester for 20 years, speaking on topics like the Keystone pipeline, issues in North Korea, or Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Some topics come up so often that team members have all but memorized how to argue one side or the other. But other topics put them on the spot with only a few minutes’ preparation time before their moment in the spotlight.

As Woodstock resident John Riggs, 33, remembered from a recent competition in Montreal, Canada, a topic can come from the unlikeliest of places — like a song lyric from “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen:

“She tied you to a kitchen chair. / She broke your throne, she cut your hair, / and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.”

Colt Scott, 20, of Strasburg debates with his peers during forensics practice at Lord Fairfax Community College. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We had to debate for student loans, even though I don’t like the way repayment of students’ loans are,” Riggs said. “This was the round we couldn’t actually research for, ’cause it was a quote, and they turned a song lyric around to make it how student loans are … .”

“Necessary,” team leader Sunniva “Sunny” Moore, of Linden, supplied.

It just so happened Riggs had recently researched how to pay back his student loans, so he knew enough about the subject to come up with an impromptu argument, even if it was in favor of the loans.

“We ended up winning that debate,” he said. “… that student loans have ways set up where you can extend the loan, make lower payments until you get a higher paying job, and then you can pay them off quicker.”

“So, initially it’s not as beneficial, but in the long run it’s more beneficial, because you don’t have to lose out on things that you want,” he said.

Zack Almequest, 21, of Mount Jackson interprets a piece of literary work during forensics team practice at Lord Fairfax Community College recently. Rich Cooley/Daily

The opposing team argued that loans would force students to live at home with their parents forever, never escaping their debt, he said.

The “she” in Cohen’s song referred to student loans, Moore remembered.

Leaving the debate as winners, she said, “We were singing the song.”

Being a part of forensics makes you think on your feet, and now in its 20th anniversary year, the team has seen a lot of success. Perhaps most important is keeping their cool.

“If you get angry, you lose,” Moore said.

All members take a speech workshop, but otherwise they come from all walks of life, some having participated on high school teams and others who just thought it would be a fun way of knocking out some class credits.

Moore, 19, joined after seeing a flier about the team looking for new members, and Zack Almquist, 21, of Mount Jackson, was pleased to learn it requires some of his acting skills.

“It’s really about getting into a rhythm,” he said.

At the Collegiate Forensics Association’s Tournament Jan. 23 and 24 in Montreal, Moore won first place in single dramatic interpretation, and Almquist third place.

The team took first, third, fourth and fifth place wins in declamation.

Colt Scott, of Strasburg, won first place in prose and Almquist third. Andrea Groves of Front Royal came in sixth in poetry.

Members also won awards in duo rounds, informative speech and debate.

Two weeks later, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the team won the first place team sweepstakes award. All competitors were on university teams, said team coach Andrea Ludwick.

“You don’t have to motivate them at all,” she said. “They are driven.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com