by Jeff Gilbert
Olivia (Ball) Boesch ’23 gave her first competitive speech 13 years ago. Nervousness, it would seem, no longer speaks doubts into her mind as a college senior.
“You would think that it would get easier, and that I would be less nervous, but it's not true,” she said.
Boesch and her 20 teammates on the Cedarville forensics team will never master not getting nervous at tournaments. It’s part of the game. The nerves remind them how much they care about performing well and Whom they represent.
But They Have Mastered Winning
In the fall of 2022, the team attended three regional tournaments and won them all.
This is the first year the speech and debate teams have competed together as one forensics team. In the spring of 2022, the speech team placed second at Christian nationals and second in the Ohio state tournament, and the debate team won a national tournament.
Eric Mishne ’08, Assistant Professor of Communication and Director of Forensics, began coaching the speech team in 2019.
The decision to combine teams under one coach made him nervous at first because of the number of students and many majors they represent from engineering to communication to Bible. But together is better.
“It's been a dream,” said Mishne. “It's really fun to see everybody building friendships across lines where there weren't before.”
The team spends a lot of time together at practices, at competitions, on van rides, and other social gatherings. They don’t just talk shop. They bond.
"The spiritual encouragement that is happening, bringing in so many different people has been really good,” Mishne said. “There's been a lot of really good conversations we've had on van rides that we probably wouldn't have had otherwise.”
Light in the Darkness
More important than their success, team members stand firm in their convictions and share their faith with their competitors when opportunities arise. Cedarville competes against many of the same teams from tournament to tournament. They get to know students from other schools. Those students are aware of how Cedarville is different, and sometimes that leads to a conversation about faith.
"I've heard stories, even firsthand, of people talking about the fact that Cedarville students are Christians and that's why they're so happy and cheerful,” Mishne said. “That’s a beautiful testament.”
Boesch, a communication major, said the competitive atmosphere isn’t usually conducive to heart-to-heart conversations. But during her freshman year she remembers a female student from Bowling Green who shared her life story.
“She was just ready to talk about whatever with whomever,” Boesch said. “We started talking with her about her faith and just where she was spiritually. She said that she was open to having more conversations about God and who we thought God was and who He was to us.”
Boesch and others talked with her at two tournaments. When they knew they would see her again they brought a gift
of a Bible and gel pens and a journal. They told her how much they appreciated talking with her.
“But I'm Jewish,” she said.
“Yeah, Jesus was, too,” the team responded. And they talked more about how they shared a core ethic to love everyone. As Boesch said, it didn’t lead to a get-on-your-knees moment, but they made a friend — including on Instagram—and they know they followed the Holy Spirit’s leading.
“Talking to her was just fun because we've been preparing to have conversations with people who don't think the same way as us," Boesch said.
The team members talk about the darkness they witness in the speeches and debates from other schools. They hear sad stories that don’t end in hope. They hear sin applauded.
“We're pretty intentional about staying firm with our beliefs in the midst of that,” said Hannah Dunham ’23, a political science major from Michigan. “That's provided opportunities to just be a witness to other people in that context.”
Judges hear messages from other schools that aren’t hopeful or affirming good things. So how does Cedarville, with its focus on hope and redemption, win so much?
“Just being able to defend my beliefs and doing so in a way that's both confident but also compassionate and not coming across as arrogant and obnoxious,” said Eric Doese ’23, an accounting major from Milwaukee.
Boesch said she’s asked herself that question a lot this year. The answer lies in Cedarville’s commitment to excellence in effort. They put the work in to research, memorize, and practice their speeches.
“I truly believe it's because we put so much work and effort into preparing, even in extemporaneous and impromptu and debate where technically it's an unprepared speech,” she said.
“We're putting in the practice before tournaments.” Mishne said striking a balance between winning and witnessing isn’t impossible. He considers that balance as he coaches each team member. For example, Will Galkin ’25 gives a dramatic interpretation speech that he has placed with but has yet to win with. However, Mishne said it’s important to keep giving that speech.
The speech tells the story of a man who was the random victim of a beating as part of a gang initiation. He was supposed to die. At trial he forgave his attackers and wished them well in a second chance because he got a second chance.
"Even though that's countercultural, people still want to hear stories like that, people still want to hear that those things happen,” Mishne said. “Speeches that applaud lifestyles that are counter to our biblical understanding still win. And that's why it's exciting when we get a speech side by side with one like that and it wins over a judge because we performed it better.”
Speech and debate are known to benefit those who go into politics or law. So why do other majors compete with the forensics team? Doese will be an accountant, but he knows that doesn’t mean a life stuck in a cubicle. Debate, he says, prepares him to make presentations to clients and co-workers and to handle well difficult conversations where understanding is needed.
“You have to really focus on the main ideas you differ on and that's really where it's helped me a lot,” he said. “It's just being able to focus my reasoning and focus my critical thinking skills on the most important issues.”
Dunham wants a career in government and diplomacy.
“I worked for a think tank this summer, and the research skills that I got out of debate really helped me with being able to do the research that I had to do for my job,” she said. “My researching abilities are far and beyond where they were when I started.”
Boesch smiles as she talks about being an introvert and how speech competitions have helped her realize that she can take her strategic communication training and do what she wants.
“I just want to plan weddings and birthday parties and be a social media manager,” she said.
Nerves will be a part of it all. But she also knows working a job will be a little like being on the speech team, which offers her one more reason to do it.
“It’s genuinely fun.”