Brookings native is forensics national champ

BROOKINGS – A Brookings High School graduate has won a national championship at the American Forensics Association-National Individual Events Tournament.

Caleb Merritt, a junior at Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., placed first and won the national championship in dramatic interpretation, the program’s fifth national champion since 1990.

He received a perfect score from all five judges for his interpretation of the TedTalk “How My Mind Came Back to Life and No One Knew,” the story of Martin Pistorius.

At age 12, Pistorius came down with an illness the doctors assumed was cryptococcal meningitis and was declared mentally unaware.

“But his brain came back to life,” Merritt said. “So for 13 years, people assumed he was a vegetable. But his mind was trapped inside his body. I do the story of him, portraying the character of him being trapped in his own mind.”

The tournament took place at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., from March 31 to April 3. Six students from the Hastings College Bronco Forensics team made it into the quarterfinals or better, helping the team place 12th overall out of more than 70 college and university teams from around the country.

Forensics is the art and study of argumentation and formal debate. Merritt, a studio arts major, said he first decided to try out public speaking in seventh grade.

Mickelson Middle School took students to similar tournaments and, after seeing his older brother try it out a few years earlier, he decided to try it out.

He said winning a national championship was very surprising and humbling, as was having the privilege to perform in front of people and share Pistorius’s story, especially knowing how subjective the judging can be.

“It was a very cool opportunity to be able to perform that and to give a platform to his voice,” Merritt said.

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