The advent of the Age of Information in the late 1970’s due to the personal computer, and subsequent rise of the Internet in the late 1980’s, has led to a blossoming of fantastical technologies. Technologies solely designed to bring individuals together through wire and satellites in hopes of communicating freely and simply. Incidentally, the world is in a constant fluctuation of both growing and shrinking. With everything and everywhere continually connecting, it is of little surprise that Forensics would forgo advancements.
Debates on how best to regulate the use of computers at tournaments are typically under discussion. Searching for pieces has expanded from browsing the stacks to browsing the net. Also, researching for sources for events that require citation or quotation is increasingly becoming a task for the Google search bar. Yet, what has been lingering on the edges, somewhat blurred, is the idea of virtual tournaments. The concept has been there, but until recently it has never been realized.
Well, almost realized. The start of May 2011 should have been the milestone, the first anniversary, of a revolutionary and experimental and wondrous Forensics achievement. The World’s first ever Virtual Tournament. The concept was simple: competitors film their performance, upload it, renowned judges view and critique, some advance to the next round, and like a “reality” based tournament Champions would be crowned. (Only this time be mailed their trophies--because virtual cookies are just not as satisfying as a medal you can wear around your neck.) NFL points would be rewarded. DebateHall would supply the secure platform to upload performances. However, though interest was high and even now continues to expand, the tournament was cancelled. For now anyway.
But let’s backtrack some.
The inception of this novel tournament came from Chris Medina. Medina had been a forensicator both on the competing and coaching spectrum, and he had experienced the importance speech and debate can hold for an individual. He had also been one to tinker with computers and videoconferencing technologies. (Thank you Age of Information!) Therefore, it seems natural that the linking of competition and computers would emerge from Medina with an implantation of an idea. That spark came in 2009 when Medina was hired as the Executive Director of the Kentucky High School Speech League, housed at WKU. When his department head approached him with her goal of creating a rural debate team, the pieces fell together like Tetris.
One of the main arguments for virtual tournaments is cost-efficiency. As schools in Eastern Kentucky have little money, or even zero coaches, the chance to use virtual tournaments could be a cost-reducing method to involve underprivileged kids in a worthwhile, life-affirming event. Unfortunately for all, the idea was placed on pause as Medina’s mother become ill. Though, after a move and with a new position at a Forensics company, Medina quickly pushed play and pursued his vision in hopes of bringing it to fruition.
That is where we are left. A fascinating concept that is almost there. The 2011 Virtual World Forensics Tournament would have seen the pixilated union of competitors from ten different states and from the Philippines. Sadly, not meeting the necessary tournament enrollment has left the first ever World Virtual Tournament sitting on a cusp of excitement and expectation. People want to support it. People want to know how it fares. But people are also contemplative. There is risk in being involved in “the first of its kind” anything. Though, where would we be without adventurous explorers?
Medina has not succumbed to this set-back. In fact, he sees this as a challenge. He believes in virtual tournaments. Budgets for the arts shrink, poverty increases, children are being left behind despite what the politicians want voters to believe, and forensics on the cheap might offer a slight salvation for underprivileged kids. Ask any debater or speechie about the value forensics had in their lives and a dissertation could be given. Forensics helped me become a better public speaker, a better writer, a better critical thinker, a better student, a better researcher, a better insert attribute here. Virtual tournaments are not meant to replace traditional tournaments. How could they? Yet, as a means to bring speech and debate to students who otherwise would never know competition and its benefits, virtual tournaments can be a solution until proper funding is supplied.
Medina is already ahead, not surprisingly, and is writing a thesis prospectus focused on his dream project to better promote its inclusion within the forensics realm. What is his overarching purpose behind his passion? His life thesis?
This activity is responsible for saving my life, getting me through college, and just about everything else in my life. I have done the research on the benefits of forensics and what it can do for at risk students. If we can introduce this activity, through this new medium, to a whole new crop of students, we can change some lives. That is my mission and my driving force.
There are no better closing words, except that for this type of competition to be achieved there MUST be community support. Get involved, promote it, and if possible be the first to compete.
Thank you to Chris Medina for supporting the writing of this piece. All here at ForCom wish you luck and offer whatever support we can.