Forensics team brings home national titles

Oct 24, 2010 by

The effectiveness of U.N. sanctions on Iran? Debatable. The long-term probability of Sarah Jessica Parker’s influence on fashion and pop culture? Also somewhat debatable.

What is not up for debate is that Tyler Junior College’s forensics team had a season for the record books.

Not only did the six-member squad interpret, debate and persuade its way to a slew of individual honors and a national title – being named the Community College National Championship team by the American Forensic Association – it also brought home the Phi Rho Pi National Tournament for Community Colleges’ Mariner Award, which was a TJC first.

The Mariner Award was given for the TJC forensics team’s cumulative sweepstakes scores over the last three decades.

Team coach M’Liss Hindman said, “We have been competing at Phi Rho Pi for 34 years and finally became the first Texas school with an active forensics program to win this prestigious award.

“So, earning the Mariner is a tribute not only to the six students on this year’s team but also for the hundreds of previous years’ students who competed at Phi Rho Pi and to Jacque Shackelford, who coached the team for more than
25 years.”

Members of the 2009-10 team were: Justin Charles of Gilmer, Alex Hatoum of Lindale, Daniel Hatoum of Lindale, Jawoine Hawkins of Grand Prairie, Jessica Peters of Lindale, and Austin Witherspoon of Longview. Peters and Witherspoon were co-captains.

“Our motto this year was
‘Do what you do and be proud of what you do’.”

“Our motto this year was ‘Do what you do and be proud of what you do,’” Justin Charles said. “We used this philosophy not only to win nationals but also improve ourselves as speakers.”

As a theater major, Charles joined the forensics team to elevate his game on the stage.

“I honestly feel that by being on this team and competing, I’ve gained so much more confidence and knowledge within myself than I have in any theater production,” he said. “In theater, you work within a company of actors; but in forensics, we are a team but we compete independently. It pushes you in a different way.”

Peters agrees with the practical applications of forensics.

“I’m graduating with an associate’s degree in surgical technology,” she said, “and much of what I’ve learned in speech and debate – as far as communication is concerned – is really important in the hospital, too.”

She plans to transfer to a four-year university and continue to compete in forensics.

One of the keys to performing well, she said, is to find a topic you feel passionate about, do your research and practice. And practice. And practice some more.

“I had always been interested in the 1920s and the women from that era,” she said, “so I started Googling movies and looking up literature and New York Times archives, and pieced it together until it made sense to me.”

Peters’ end result was “20/20”, a thought-provoking contrast of Julie Andrews’ light-hearted, flapper musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” versus the brutality of the women’s suffrage movement.

During the fall and spring semesters, the team competed successfully in 20 speech and debate tournaments; and Charles said that much of the team’s ability to win was attributed to stamina.

“It really does come down to what students can get up at 8 a.m., and compete round after round and, by 9 p.m., still keep the energy in their performance,” he said. “It’s a marathon.”

At the TJC Board of Trustees meeting in April, forensics team members and sponsor M’Liss Hindman are recognized for their stellar 2009-10 season. Pictured, from left: Alex Hatoum, Austin Witherspoon, Justin Charles, Hindman, Jessica Peters, Jawoine Hawkins and Daniel Hatoum.

In early April, the team completed the competitive qualification system for the American Forensic Association’s university-level national tournament held in Eau Claire, Wis., and won the title of Community College Sweepstakes
National Champion.

Hindman said, “Students have to qualify to attend this tournament. It is difficult to qualify because it involves placing in numerous tournaments throughout the year. There were 78 universities and colleges in attendance with more than 800 students in competition. We had five students qualify in a total of 12 events.”

The team then traveled directly from Wisconsin to the Phi Rho Pi national tournament in New Orleans, where they won another armload of trophies.

A summary of their winnings: Jessica Peters, bronze in persuasive speaking; Justin Charles, silver in program oral interpretation; Alex Hatoum, bronze in parliamentary debate, gold in impromptu speaking and a gold in extemporaneous speaking; Daniel Hatoum, bronze in parliamentary debate, gold in impromptu speaking and gold in extemporaneous speaking; Jawoine Hawkins, bronze in dramatic interpretation and gold in prose interpretation.

Those wins set TJC up for the following sweepstakes awards: bronze in debate, silver in individual events and bronze in overall sweepstakes.

The Hatoum brothers, Alex and Daniel, were active in high school forensics but wondered if they had the mettle to continue at the college level.

“The reason I got into it was because I was afraid to speak publicly,” Alex said. “My first extemporaneous speech was under 30 seconds, because I couldn’t say anything; so I did it simply to prove I could do it.”

Now, both brothers are transferring to the University of Texas at Austin, where they will continue to compete in forensics and study law.

“We never really had aspirations to be lawyers or speakers when we were younger,” Alex said, “but upon discovering the challenge and upon conquering it, we realized it’s something we really enjoy and want to continue doing.

“It helped us discover where we belong.”



Academics, Features, Spring 2011

About the author

Elise Mullinix is Tyler Junior College's Editorial Manager. She can be reached at 903-510-2370 or at