National Forensic League

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National Forensic League
Type Non Profit Organization
Founded 1925
Headquarters Ripon, Wisconsin
Key people Donald Eugene Crabtree, President
Pam Cady Wycoff, Vice President
J. Scott Wunn, Executive Director
Website speechanddebate.org

The National Forensic League (now also known as the National Speech and Debate Association) is a non-partisan, non-profit educational honor society established to encourage and motivate American high school students to participate in and become proficient in public speaking. The League is the America's oldest and largest high school speech and debate honor society. Since 1925, the League has enrolled over 1.4 million students in fulfillment of its vision of empowering every child in the United States "to become an effective communicator, ethical individual, critical thinker, and leader in a democratic society."

The organization is the central agent for coordination and facilitation of heightened public awareness of the value of speech communication skills, development of educational initiatives for student and teacher training, excellence in interscholastic competition, and the promotion of honor society ideals.

The National Forensic League is one of four national organizations which direct high school competitive speech and debate events in the United States. The other three are the National Catholic Forensic League or NCFL, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association or NCFCA, and Stoa USA. The National Forensic League Board of Directors meets twice a year for rules revision. It votes on each rule change, which affects the entire high school forensics community.

The word "forensic" is an adjective meaning "of public debate or argument." The word is derived from the Latin word forensis, meaning "of the forum." The sense of the word "forensic" that means "pertaining to legal trials" dates from the 17th century (Oxford English Dictionary) and led to the use of the word "forensics" in reference to legal evidence.

Mission[edit]

National Forensic League headquarters in Ripon, Wisconsin.

"The National Forensic League promotes high school and middle school speech and debate activities as a means to develop a student's essential life skills and values"[1]

Code of Honor[edit]

Members of the National Forensic League are expected to abide by the Code of Honor, adopted on September 23, 2007.[2] The Code of Honor was initially proposed by Harold Keller, a member of the Board of Directors, in recognition of the Honor Society nature of the League. The Code of Honor consists of an oath and five tenets.

National Forensic League Oath[edit]

"As a member of the National Forensic League, I pledge to uphold the highest standards of integrity, humility, respect, leadership and service in the pursuit of excellence."

Integrity: A National Forensic League member obeys the highest ethical standards and adheres to the rules of the League. League members recognize that integrity is central to earning the trust, respect, and support of one's peers. Integrity encompasses the highest regard for honesty, civility, justice and fairness.

Humility: A League member does not regard him or herself more highly than others. Regardless of a person's level of success, he or she always looks beyond oneself to appreciate the inherent value of others.

Respect: A League member respects individual differences and fosters diversity. He or she promotes tolerance, inclusion and empowerment for people from a variety of backgrounds.

Leadership: A League member influences others to take positive action toward productive change. League members commit to thoughtful and responsible leadership which promotes the other core values in the National Forensic League Code of Honor.

Service: A League member exercises the talents he or she has been given to provide service to his or her peers, community, and the League. At all times a League member is prepared to work constructively to improve the lives of others.

History[edit]

The early years[edit]

Bruno E. Jacob, a professor at Ripon College, first envisioned the League after receiving a letter which inquired whether an honor society existed for high school debaters. Noting that no such society existed, Jacob drafted and circulated a proposal for what would become America's oldest and largest high school debate and speech honor society. The League welcomed its first member school on March 28, 1925.

The National Forensic League grew in both membership and organization during the next few years. In 1926, the League chartered one hundred high schools. In 1927, the League began producing The Bulletin, a professional newsletter that served as the forerunner to today’s Rostrum magazine. Chapter manuals, jeweled insignia pins, and other organizational items emerged during this time. One of the most significant changes came in 1930, when Jacob proposed a national speech tournament for League members. The following year, the first National Tournament was held at Ripon College with 49 schools from 17 states competing. Miami, Oklahoma, won the first national championship in high school debate.

In spite of economic turmoil, the League continued to grow during the Great Depression. National Tournament winners appeared on an NBC network program and CBS broadcast the championship debate. In 1938, the first Student Congress was held in conjunction with the National Tournament and Poetry Reading was formalized as a consolation event. To encourage and channel its growth, the Board of Directors voted to increase requirements for membership and degrees while abolishing most of its student fees. This practice was hoped to incentivize excellence while increasing access to League opportunities. With the onset of World War II, the League suspended its National Tournament. However, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Student Congress continued to meet.

Recognizing the need for community service during this time in America's history, the Board of Directors approved an emergency war schedule of service points to be awarded for speeches made to school and community audiences. As World War II neared its end, the concept of service points was written into the League’s constitution to promote service among League members. The National Tournament resumed in 1947.

The mid-20th century[edit]

In the mid-20th century, the League experienced another growth spurt. Jacob resigned his teaching position at Ripon College in order to devote his full attention to the National Forensic League. He traveled approximately 20,000 miles a year, mostly by car, visiting members of the League and offering his support. At the same time, the League was incorporated and engaged its first Assistant Secretary to increase its services to members. These administrative changes were rewarded with increased membership, as the 100,000th League membership was recorded in December 1957.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of transition for the National Forensic League. After decades of service, Jacob retired as Executive Secretary, and President Karl E. Mundt soon followed. League leadership was restructured as the organization expanded to include 44 districts and the Board of Directors was increased by two members. New awards were also introduced, including recognition for leading schools and the National Forensic League Hall of Fame, which recognized outstanding forensic coaches and educators. Humorous Interpretation and Lincoln-Douglas debate were added as main events at Nationals, expanding the number of opportunities available to students. In 1975, the League celebrated its golden anniversary, which included a move into its own building.

As society began to embrace technology, the League worked to incorporate this new field into its mission and services. In the 1980s, the League began videotaping final rounds as a means of preserving the history of the contest. As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, the League developed and refined its web site to extend opportunities for students previously marginalized by geographic or fiscal constraints. In this vein, the League turned its attention toward engaging previously underserved communities. During the 1991-92 school year, Phillips Petroleum made a major gift to the League to promote speech education in rural and urban communities. A few years later, the National Junior Forensic League was established to serve junior high and middle schools. The Barbara Jordan Youth Debates, made possible by the Kaiser Family Foundation, were held for urban debaters. As a result of these and other National Forensic League outreach efforts, the 900,000th member was recorded in the mid-1990s.

The millennium[edit]

At the millennium, new award opportunities, including the Academic All-American Awards and the National Student of the Year award, were established to recognize excellence in scholarship and character. The National Forensic league Code of Honor was adopted in 2007 to promote the holistic development of youth: its tenets include integrity, humility, respect, leadership and service. Since its founding, the League has enrolled over 1.4 million members in all fifty states, U. S. possessions and several foreign countries. Currently over 120,000 high school students and over 6,500 high school teachers are active members.

The NFL/LFG National Tournament continues to be held annually, featuring competition in Policy Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Congressional Debate, Public Forum Debate, United States Extemporaneous Speaking, International Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Extemporaneous Commentary, Impromptu Speaking, Prose, Poetry, Expository Speaking and Storytelling. Over $153,000 in college scholarships are awarded at each national tournament, making it possible for students to pursue post-secondary education.

Notable Alumni[edit]

Events[edit]

Each year, the National Forensic League hosts the National Speech and Debate Tournament. This tournament attracts over 3000 high school students who compete for national honors in a wide variety of events. These events include:

Students who qualify to the National Tournament in a main event yet are eliminated in the preliminary rounds may participate in one of the following Supplemental Events:

In addition to Supplemental Events, these Consolation Events are also held at the National Tournament:

All the above events are League-sponsored events which one can compete in at the National Forensic League National Tournament.

Points[edit]

Double-ruby award pin earned with 500 points. The sterling silver pin is 1 inch (2.5 cm) tall.

League members can earn points at local, state, and nationwide open invitational events. These points serve as a tool to help students and coaches chronicle participation, commemorate achievement, and track progress over time. Points are recorded in three areas: debate, speech, and service. Students of all ability levels can earn points. Points are given for both wins and losses in debate, as well as for each place given in speech rounds. Each point entry must be entered in only one area (i.e. students cannot record a final round with an audience of more than 25 adults under both speech and service).

Debate[edit]

Points earned in the Debate category can be recorded in one of two ways.

  • Debate
    • Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, and Policy Debate are worth 6 points per win and 3 points per loss or non-decision.
    • Non-league debate events (Mock Trial, Parliamentary Debate, Spontaneous Argument) are worth 4 points per win and 2 points per loss or non-decision.
    • The International Public Policy Forum debate essay contest is recorded under Debate.
  • Congress
    • Congressional Debate or other assembly speaking (Model UN, Girls/Boys State) earn 1-6 points per speech or per complete hour of presiding.

Speech[edit]

Points can be earned in two classifications: for participation in League main events, and for participation in non-League events (including supplemental and consolation events).

  • Main League events may earn 6 points per 1st rank, 5 points per 2nd rank, 4 points per 3rd rank, 3 points per 4th rank, and 2 points for ranks of 5 and below. Events in this classification include Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Humorous/Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation.
  • Non-main League events may earn 5 points per 1st rank, 4 points per 2nd rank, 3 points per 3rd rank, 2 points per 4th rank, and 1 point for ranks of 5 and below.

League members can earn points for participation in outside contests or tournaments, such as the American Legion Oratorical Contest’s two speaking events and Poetry Out Loud or Slam Poetry.

Service[edit]

League members can also earn points for non-competitive speaking experience. Up to 200 service points may be reported per year. These points can be earned in a variety of ways.

  • Audience speaking engagements (i.e. high school assembly, service or community organizations, place of worship, etc.)
  • Judging novice or middle school rounds at tournaments
  • Coaching middle school practice sessions
  • Theatrical performances/competitions

Enrollment/Honor Society[edit]

Once students earn 25 points, with at least 10 earned in high school interscholastic competition, he/she achieves lifetime National Forensic League membership status, known as the merit degree (and the coach must pay the one-time $15 enrollment fee). Throughout the rest of the student’s scholastic career with the League, they can earn degrees based on their speech experiences. As League members reach certain point benchmarks, they earn higher degrees to demonstrate their progress.

Degree
Points
Votes/Strength
Seal Description
Certificate Seal
Gem Description
Merit
25
1
White
None
Honor
75
2
Bronze
Emerald
Excellence
150
3
Silver on White
Blue Sapphire
Distinction
250
4
Metallic Gold on Gold
Ruby
Special
Distinction
500
5
Silver on Pink
Double
Ruby
Superior
Distinction
750
6
Silver on Blue
Triple
Ruby
Outstanding
Distinction
1000
7
Silver on Violet
Quadruple
Ruby
Premier
Distinction
1500+
8
Silver on Black
Quintuple
Ruby

Coach Points[edit]

Coaches also receive points. Coaches receive one-tenth the points earned by their students, and earn degrees per the schedule above. After a minimum of five years as a League member, a coach who attains 1500 points is awarded a diamond; he or she receives a second diamond for 3000 points, a third for 6000 points, and so on. Five years must pass between each diamond award.

Publications[edit]

Rostrum is the official monthly magazine of the National Forensic League. The magazine was originally titled the Bulletin and was first published in 1926. Since its creation, Rostrum has evolved into a forum for debate education and news, soliciting articles from coaches and debaters. Rostrum is a popular place for debate camps and brief companies to place their advertisements supporting the magazine. Rostrum is free to all National Forensic League members, and also contains information on results from the national tournament, opinion pieces on the evolving debate world, and strategy tips for debaters.

Other League Publications include an NJFL newsletter, which is distributed to members of the National Junior Forensic League, and the Alumni Connection magazine.

State leagues[edit]

While the National Speech and Debate Tournament and the qualifying District Competitions are hosted by the National Forensic League, most forensics tournaments during the school year operate under the auspices of other organizations. Chief among them are the state speech leagues, such as:

In other states, speech is classed with other high school interscholastic competition and is overseen by the same organization as football, basketball and gymnastics such as:

State leagues operate independently. Some leagues sponsor events not offered by the League. These events may still qualify for points, however.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]