Spotswood’s Sheahan coaches up son Aidan for Forensics title

Emmett Sheahan has coached forensics at Spotswood High School for a decade, pouring his heart and soul into his team of students each year, hoping that one of them will bring home the state title.

And this year, he finally got his wish. His son, Aidan, a freshman at the high school, won the state championship at the competition held March 25 at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian.

“Putting all this energy and time into other parents’ children has been very gratifying, but I can’t express how thrilling it is to be able to put the time into my own son and see him achieve something that as a coach I’ve been seeking as well, and that’s bringing home a state title to Spotswood High School,” Emmett Sheahan said.

Forensics, not to be confused with the scientists who analyze crime scenes, is the art of oratory recitation, or “the art of taking the spoken word and using it to convey emotion,” according to Emmett Sheahan.

There are several different types of forensic speaking, from poetry and short story reading, to prose interpretation or Extemporaneous speaking, which is the category Aidan Sheahan won at the state championship.

“In Extemporaneous speaking, it’s not about persuading an audience whose side is a better side in a particular issue, it’s how well can you deliver information in a convincing way and that’s really ... how forensics is different from debate,” his father said.

Emmett Sheahan has taught at Spotswood for 18 years, and has coached debate for 15 years. He teaches a debate and forensics course at the high school, which his son is enrolled in.

Forensics is a Virginia High School League non-athletic activity. Aidan Sheahan was able to join Spotswood’s forensics team as an eighth-grader last year under VHSL’s rules for academic activities. He competed in the 3A conference, which includes about 19 schools alone.

The three broad topics for the Extemporaneous speaking category are released a few weeks in advance for competitors to compile bibliographies in advance.

“I took 13 Economist magazines and five or six New York Times magazines, and I’ll go through the magazines page by page and I will pull articles that even slightly or remotely relate to the three broad topics,” Aidan Sheahan said.

The three topics this year were Central/South Asia, Middle East and U.S. federal government.

When the students arrive at the state competition, they have a 30-minute prep time before they stand in front of the judges. The students don’t receive their specific questions until they get to the drawing room at the event.

“Once you’re in the drawing room, you’re going to have 30 minutes to use a bibliography that you probably will spend somewhere between seven and 14 hours creating, previously heading into the competition,” Aidan Sheahan said. “You will use this bibliography to find topics on a question that you will draw from a slip. … These can be things ranging from should Middle Eastern zoos have elephants, to something more serious about war or global health in that area.”

During those 30 minutes, the student must put together a speech that can be no longer than seven minutes, using citations from sources in their bibliography. Each student picks different questions from the drawing room so that the judges don’t hear the same speech repeatedly.

“There are two to three judges inside the room looking for how well you can speak and the amount of cites and sources you have,” Aidan Sheahan said.

The panel also judges based on organization, eye contact and overall tone and appearance.

Speaking on such heavy topics require much reading, research and keeping up to date on current events.

“I talked about healthcare in India. I talked about repealing Obamacare and I talked about relations between Palestine and Israel and whether they could find peace,” he said.
“It’s a lot of information to take in.”

Instead of creating a running dialogue between students like debate, the competitors typically don’t watch their opponents.

At the end, the top three finalists were called upon the stage as the winners were announced starting with third place. Aidan Sheahan was awarded a medal for first place.

“Being called up on stage is always an excitement,” Aidan Sheahan said. “After they announced second [place], it was just a lot of emotions of happiness. You spend a lot of time prepping for it and making these bibliographies and reading information, and going into depth in the topics.”

The research that comes with Extemporaneous speaking has helped Aidan Sheahan in other fields of study. He also learned how to find data and information from primary sources instead of relying on secondary sources.

“[It gives you] lots of confidence when speaking,” he said. “[And it helps your] ability to write research papers. You learn the importance of citing your sources and finding sources to back up your information. … It shows credibility.”

Emmett Sheahan is proud of Aidan, both as a father and as his coach and teacher.

“I’ve been just basking in the glory that he’s delivered to us in the community,” he said.

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