Forensics League accepting nominations for new Hall of Fame

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Coaches of the Nashville Catholic Middle School Forensics League have all seen students blossom as they’ve built the courage and confidence to speak in front of groups in a competitive setting.

And they’ve all seen that foundation be a springboard for success in high school, college and beyond.

“It was our idea we might want to honor the beginning of all that,” said Joe Zanger, president of the league, which is celebrating its 30th season. 

Zanger and Carolyn Baker, the founder of the league, are organizing a Nashville Catholic Middle School Forensics League Hall of Fame to honor former competitors, coaches and volunteers.

Numerous surveys have identified public speaking as one of people’s greatest fears. “If you beat that fear, you are on your way,” said Zanger, who also coaches the forensics team at St. Joseph School in Madison.

Some of her former forensics students “are actors now, some are lawyers and some are successful in all kinds of roles where they have to get up in front of people and speak,” said Baker, who started the forensics program at Overbrook School.

“We’ve coached kids we’re convinced would not have been as successful … if they hadn’t participated in forensics in middle school,” Zanger said.

People can be selected to the Hall of Fame in one of three categories: alumni, coaches or “Friends of Forensics.” 

The key criteria for former competitors who are selected is a demonstrated commitment to leadership in their school, church and community, Zanger said.

“We also wanted to honor coaches,” Baker said. “Most of them are not even paid. They just give of their time. Even after their kids have moved on, they’ve stayed with the program.”

The Friends of Forensics category will honor those who have demonstrated support for the forensics program, either as judges, tournament volunteers or other ways.

“This is the most parental intensive activity,” Zanger said, pointing to the many parents who donate their time to support the forensics program. “Without the parental support you can’t have a league.”

The league is accepting nominations for the Hall of Fame. To receive all the criteria to be selected for the hall and to receive a nomination form, email Zanger at or Baker at

The league plans to induct its first class of honorees at the conclusion of the Coaches Choice Tournament on Feb. 20, 2021.

“We think maybe the first year, depending on the nominations, we may have as many as five” inductees, Baker said. “We want it to be selective.”

Even if a nominee is not selected, their nomination will continue to be considered for five years, she said.

The Hall of Fame literally will be located in a hallway of the Catholic Pastoral Center. Diocesan School Superintendent Rebecca Hammel helped to secure permission to locate the Hall of Fame at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Baker noted. 

“We have about 35 feet of wall space” where the league will be able to honor its inductees, she said.

The league began in the 1990-91 school year. This past year, 10 schools in the diocese competed in the league, Zanger said. “Over the years, we’ve had nearly every school in the diocese,” he said.

“This year was the first year we cracked 200 students” from diocesan schools participating in the program, Zanger said. “We expect that to grow this year.”

The program is open to students in grades five through eight, who compete in a variety of categories in public speaking.

The season starts in mid-September and concludes with the league championship tournament the first weekend of March, Zanger said. The schedule includes nine or 10 tournaments, with five of those exclusively for teams in the league.

Over the years, the league has adopted several initiatives to build students’ self-esteem and keep them involved in the program. Chris Melton of Holy Rosary Academy, the former league president, recognized that students who regularly received low scores from the judges were quick to drop out, Zanger said. Under her leadership, the league adopted a minimum score of 82, which is unique to the league.

“That change alone has led to kids staying in the program,” Zanger said.

Judges are encouraged to help build students’ self-esteem and encourage them not to give up by including at least one positive comment in their scores, Baker said.

“The Coaches Choice tournament is designed to help the students who have not gained the success they might have wanted in the course of the year,” Zanger said. It is limited to those who haven’t finished in top three in a category at a tournament, he explained.

The league also honors students at the other end of the spectrum with the “One Hundred Club” for students who have received a perfect 100 score from a judge during the year, Zanger said.

“If you get them excited about it in middle school, most of the time they carry it on if there’s an opportunity,” Baker said.

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