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Public speaking skills on display in competition

The Wauwatosa East forensics team took second place it in its own tournament Saturday.

The Wauwatosa East forensics team took second place it in its own tournament Saturday.

Feb. 5, 2014

Some competitions involve speed, strength or physical endurance.

Then there is forensics, a public-speaking competition based on poise, expressiveness and confidence.

Wauwatosa East played host to, and won second place, in a forensics tournament Saturday. More than 70 rooms in the school were occupied with judges presiding over students trying to impress them through interpretive or persuasive demonstrations. Wauwatosa West also participated.

The tournament is one of the first in the forensics competition season. East students will be visiting and competing against other area schools nearly every Saturday until March 29.

While how well a school does is based on how well each individual student impressed the judges, forensics coach and English teacher Jon Balcerak said he encourages a web of support between the students.

"I'm trying to instill a sense of responsibility and self-discipline," he added. "The more we're competing as a team, the more we realize that your individual performance is going to affect everyone's team score."

Mental conditioning

The students have been gearing up for the competitions since early November, many delving deep into their subject matter. The competition is broken into 17 categories covering a range of topics.

Maddie Wilinski, an East senior, has to get into not one, but three characters to pull off her solo acting presentation and the three couldn't be more different from each other. One is a 50-year-old woman from the Bronx, the other a 40-year-old southern woman and the third a seemingly dimwitted 20-year-old woman.

She's been spending a lot of time in front of the mirror, working on "character pops" where she makes a body and facial snap to demonstrate transitions from one character to the other. Although she's challenged by making each character genuine, she said, she's used to drastic expression.

"My mom would always read books to my sister and I with a ton of expression, and this is a wonderful way for me to be able to to do the same and explore what I can do," she added.

Other students make mock radio broadcasts, read poetry or make argumentative speeches.

Hannah Dion-Kirschner, an East senior, puts together a speech-filled scrapbook in her presentation under the farrago category. She's given a theme and strings together myriad orations around it. Her theme is making the best out of the worst, and she's put together comedy, a Shakespearean speech and a poem to illustrate that.

Extracurricular learning

Students get into forensics, Balcerak said, for many reasons. Some like the competition, some like to delve into their respective topics. Others, however, want to be able to speak in front of a room without imploding.

"I think what is amazing to me is the 35 or so people on this team are doing it not for a grade but because they want to," he said.

For Dion-Kirschner and Wilinski, both captains, they get an opportunity to lead a team even though they're in forensics for different reasons.

Dion-Kirschner is in it for the competition, but she also said it helps her steel herself for her auditions as a musician. Wilinski loves the subject matter and the chance to act.

Balcerak has a long road before him with the forensics season just taking off. While he may not have the responsibilities included in running a home tournament, such as reserving and basically running the entirety of Wauwatosa East High School for a day, he will have to organize and coach his team as they travel throughout Wisconsin.

"It's a great community activity and you meet other people from different schools, and there is this huge bond in that forensics tournament and it's a great feeling," Wilinski added.

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