The University of Houston Forensic Society has won 12 national debate championships since its revival in 2002 after a four-year absence due to a lack of funding. Professor and UHFS Director Michael Fain attributes this success to the team’s indifference towards winning.
Fain said that his approach to directing the organization has been to devote less focus on competition and more on reaching out to the community.
He said that helping others fosters a team environment that results in champions.
“If I can teach the organization to be a team first, the winning will come. And it has come,” Fain said.
The organization has 312 members, only 32 of whom compete in speech and debate competitions.
“We are the largest organization of our nature in the nation, possibly in the world,” Fain said.
Fain is the only coach for the team and is helped by six co-captains.
In the 2009-2010 school year the UHFS has judged 22 events for elementary, middle and high schools, hosted 14 events for low-income children on campus and competed in 16 championships.
“We literally have an event every six days,” Fain said.
Since January, the team has placed in several national competitions, including fourth place in the Pi Kappa Delta National Convention and Tournament and fifth place in the Novice Nationals collegiate championship, competing against some of the top debate teams in the nation.
Fain said after its establishment in 1951, the UHFS won only six national championships in its first 28 years. In the eight years since Fain restored the organization after it was stopped in 1998, it has doubled that number.
“The difference is I don’t care if we win,” Fain said. “I care more about the kids whose lives we touch.”
Political science sophomore and co-captain Lee Arnold agrees that with success comes the responsibility to help others.
“We are not just a competitive team,” Arnold said. “Yes, we win trophies, but that’s not really the important thing. We are more concerned with an opportunity to reach out to our community.”
In addition to hosting and judging school debate competitions, the organization volunteers at shelters and orphanages and hosts day camps at UH during the summer. In the camps, UHFS members teach speaking skills, hold speech and debate contests and help the children perform for their parents on the last day of the camp. Arnold said that their mission is to supplement the education children get in school.
“We are trying to bridge the gap,” he said.
Fain said a child should not be excluded from the activities because he or she cannot speak English. He said that UHFS hosts Spanish competitions as well and doesn’t plan to stop there.
“Next year we are going to offer Spanish, English and Vietnamese contests,” Fain said. “No one else does this. This is unique to us.”
Human development and family studies sophomore Joe Walker said he believes their efforts are far reaching.
“The impact we’ve had over the years has reached many children,” Walker said. “We are exposing them to a higher education environment, which I think is more important than anything.”
UHFS Co-Captain Kamil Khan, a business management sophomore said the community service the UHFS is involved in builds character.
“It’s about achieving humility and reaching out to the community,” Khan said.
Alongside Arnold, Walker and Khan, junior Chris Hunter serves as senior captain, and freshman Maria Alfaro and junior Allison Kerlegon are co-captains. Together the co-captains manage the society, while each captain has a specific area that he or she is in charge of.
The organization plans to cap their membership at 400. Arnold said that all someone has to do to join the society is show up.
“All you have to do is walk in,” Arnold said. “Just come in with a good attitude and we’ll teach you the rest.”