Forensic Society claims first national title
The UH Forensic Society was awarded its first National Championship win as a team since its first competition 62 years ago.
Contrary to popular belief, Director of Forensics Mike Fain said there is no crime scene investigation involved in this type of forensics.
“People think I’m a director of a scientific organization,” Fain said.
UHFS, the speech and debate team for the University, used its speech communication talents to get it to first place at the Pi Kappa Delta National Championship’s 100th anniversary competition on March 13 to 17 in St. Louis, something that has never been accomplished by the team since its founding in 1951.
Under Fain’s guidance, they competed against 500 debate teams and roughly 1,800 individual competitors. Fain said this event is particularly intense.
“On the college level, there are 13 different types of national championships. Pi Kappa Delta is, without question, the oldest and one of the biggest in the country, if not the world,” Fain said.
Between 1951 and 1998, the UH forensic team won three individual titles but none as a team.
“In 1998, the program on this campus absolutely and totally died,” Fain said. “What I mean is that there was not a faculty member, there was not an office or a cent or a kid that competed for the University until 2002.”
Fain became director in 2002, when he was working at a high school as a speech coach. He then began to work with his students at UH, who are “ugly brilliant,” he said.
“These kids are extremely coachable and smarter than you could ever believe,” Fain said.
One of the debaters was a Chinese-American student, Angela Kao, who won with a speech about a 13-year-old Chinese gymnast who was defected from China on international television at a gymnastics competition. Fain said they rewrote parts of the story for the performance by adding some Chinese language to the speech.
“I incorporated Mandarin Chinese, the national dialect, in order to make the performance more authentic, which may have helped to captivate the audience,” Kao, an economics and political science junior, said. “While performing, I strive to connect with the character, so any emotions I may feel are entirely those of the character of which I am portraying. My main goal in performing was to raise awareness for the darker and less visible aspects that the Olympic Games have on the lives of various athletes and their families.”
Fain says most of the pieces the team performs are controversial or emotional, and that is what sets them apart.
“That’s the kind of thing that we do,” Fain said. “We do very emotional pieces. Put it this way: You never know what is going to pop out of University of Houston’s mouth. We had a team that was in the final round of dramatic duo, and they did a piece that is brand new titled ‘How to Rent a Negro’ by Demali Ayo. It’s a hilarious spoof on racism written by a black reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The fact that we had the gall to have a group do this performance is just a taste of what we can do.”
After this competition, UHFS has 41 national titles, almost 15 times more than it had when it started in 2002. Fain said this is because of his focus on everything but competition.
“I always tell the kids the reason why we win is because there is an inverse relationship between how little I care to win and how much you win,” Fain said. “If I don’t care to win, I don’t put any pressure. The UH Forensic Program is one that wins lots of competition, but it is because we focus on the needs of the community.”
UHFS goes to Star of Hope to help buy, transport and serve food to homeless families three times a year. Last year, it judged 18 different speech events and five non-related events throughout the city as well.
“Volunteering as a team builds up unity and keeps us grounded and invested in the topics we may discuss,” said Marcus Smith, an English and political science junior who is part of the society. “Everyone on the team is very close, like brothers and sisters. When going into a round and debating anything from gun control, alternative energy and health care, volunteering helps us keep in mind how these policies affect others, why it’s important these issues be talked about and, if capable, how we can positively affect the world with what we have come to know and learn.”
Working together as a team will bring success no matter what, Fain says.
“If I teach the team how to be a team first, then winning will happen,” Fain said. “What helps you win depends on what you do in the meantime.”