In Terms of Winning, Mason Forensics Team Speaks with Authority

Posted: January 18, 2011 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: January 17, 2011 at 9:39 am

By Jason Jacks

Forensics team

The 2010-11 Forensics Team, with director Peter Pober at far right, standing. Photo by Evan Cantwell

For members of Mason’s perennial powerhouse Forensics Team, success means hours and hours of practice — some of it involving a head full of shampoo.

“I’ve even read my speeches in the shower,” admits team co-captain Nick Cox, a junior majoring in community health. Other members, he says, have taken to listening to their speeches while sleeping to try to memorize them. “Whatever it takes,” he says.

Forensics, which pits competitors’ oratory and debating skills, is the art of formal debate. The most successful team in Mason’s history, the team has ranked among the nation’s top 35 teams every year since 1975. It won the national collegiate title in 1979, and has produced more than 35 individual national champions.

Since Peter Pober, a communication professor with an infectious love for public speaking, arrived from the University of Texas at Austin to become director of Mason’s Forensics Team in 2003, the team has ranked in the top 10 nationally each year. At the national tournament in 2010, the team finished fourth out of more than 100 teams that competed. In that same tournament, Mason students placed first through fourth in extemporaneous speaking, an event where competitors are given a limited amount of time to prepare a persuasive speech on the spot.

Foresics team members

Hours and hours of research and practice pay off on the national stage. Photo by Evan Cantwell

With an MA and PhD in speech communication from the University of Texas at Austin, Pober is considered one of the nation’s preeminent forensics directors. While coaching at his alma mater, he led Texas to 32 team, individual and program national titles. Between Texas and Mason, his span of directing a top-10 team now exceeds two decades.

As for the success of Mason’s team, Pober says the university’s diverse student population and the support the team gets from faculty throughout the campus both play a big part. And just like members of a college sports team that wins year in and year out, he also says each of his students has a strong desire to maintain Mason’s winning tradition.

“The students are so vested in the legacy of the program,” he says. “They rock my world!”

Currently, there are 33 students on the team. As evidence of its national reputation, about 75 percent of the members came from states other than Virginia — signaling that students come from far and wide to be a part of Mason’s Forensics Team. That’s up from about 10 percent of out-of-state students a decade ago.

“It’s inspirational to see so many members put so much effort into the team,” says Quincey Smith, the team’s other co-captain who’s from Wyoming and is studying public relations.

Smith, who calls Pober an “inspiration” to members of the team, has been involved with forensics since his freshman year of high school. Like a lot of members, he says the reputation of the team is what brought him to Mason.

He says the key to Mason’s success lies in preparation. Members, he says, are constantly researching and rehearsing their speeches, which can be up to 10 minutes in length. Topics he has been working on this year include discriminatory health care practices against transgender people and the importance of being alone.

As a senior, this is Smith’s last year on the team. “It is sort of frightening to know that forensics won’t be part of my life next year,” he says, adding that he would like to coach someday.

Like Smith, Cox says he enrolled at Mason to be part of the team. And besides preparing for a tournament by reciting speeches in the shower, he also records his speeches and listens to them while driving.

And while there have been too many memorable events over his time on the team to pinpoint his proudest moment, he did say that being with his teammates at a big tournament is still his biggest thrill.

“At nationals,” he says, “everyone is just beaming with excitement. It makes you feel so good about being a part of this team.”

In April, the team will travel to the University of Nebraska Kearney to take part in the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament.

See to learn more about the team.

Write to mediarel at