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Call It A Dynasty: Salem HS Wins Another Forensics Title

The Salem High School Forensics team was honored by the school board with Resolution 220 recognizing head coach Mark Ingerson and his talented students for winning their ninth straight state championship.
The Salem High School Forensics team was honored by the school board  and Salem City Council recognizing head coach Mark Ingerson and his talented students for winning their ninth straight state championship.

Nine in a row – that’s how many state championships Salem High School has won – not in football, basketball or in some other sport – but in forensics.

No, that’s not like lab work; in Virginia, high school forensics is speech and interpretative events (often of literature). “Speech competition, if you will,” said Mark Ingerson, a teacher at Salem High School and also the forensics team coach.

Ingerson started coaching the team 12 years ago, building its foundation and over the past nine years it has paid off with 9 consecutive state titles.

Among the events involved is the interpretation of prose, poetry, drama, and speech events (oratory, impromptu speaking, etc.) Not every school fields a competitive forensics team, so the Spartans are in a special 4A conference that might include meets against Lynchburg area schools. (Patrick Henry High School also won a state forensics title this year in the 6A division.)

“It is definitely something that has grown. When I first started no one knew what it was,” said Ingerson, “I just took who I could get.” Now Andrew Lewis Middle School students aspire to tryout for the Salem team once they hit the 8th grade.  Just like they might when trying to join a high school varsity team as a freshman. Ingerson now has to cut kids in preseason tryouts from the team.

All types of students tryout, said Ingerson; some want to go into a law career and figure the public speaking aspect of forensics will help them. Others like “performance of some sort” and forensics is a natural extension of that.

“A real wide variety of students,” added Ingerson – a few years back Jonathan Walker was the team captain, as he was also on the Spartans football team. Salem has long had a rich tradition in football, winning several titles…many may not be aware of the forensic team’s run however.

The regular season is more a series of invitational meets, something Ingerson helped formulate to supplement scheduled events during the regular season. The Southwest Virginia Forensics League, which he helped create, consists of 16 schools. Ingerson joked that his team “is kind of like the New York Yankees” now, in that other schools “don’t like us.”

One student from a competitive team even told a Spartan last year that, “We hate you …,” a remark that made Ingerson laugh when retelling the story. “I guess to be hated for the right reasons is a good thing.”

Salem City Council honored the Spartan forensics team on Monday night at their City Council meeting, adopting a resolution to that effect. Former students have gone on to use the forensics training in some capacity– seven of Ingerson’s students have gone on to law school. Other became teachers or went into business.

“The bottom line with forensics is that you’re learning speech skills – good eye contact, enunciation,” said Ingerson. “In the business world there’s great application. A lifelong skill.”

In the Salem high school world that skill is also good for more trophies.

By Gene Marrano

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