Performing with the Best

Camper Claire Bratzel, left, discusses her topic and delivery with counselor Natalie Tomes.

By Frank Radosevich II
July 27, 2012

Natalie Tomes came to Bradley because of a summer camp and said she’s incredibly pleased with that decision.

Still in high school, Tomes attended the Summer Forensics Institute at Bradley where she practiced and polished a speech alongside members of the University’s successful speech team. She said the camp and her time on the Hilltop ignited her life’s passion and inspired her to attend Bradley.

“I never felt passionate about anything before,” said Tomes, a junior double majoring in history and political science from Wheaton, Ill. “Just seeing how much Bradley students loved it helped me fall in love with it and now I’m here.”

High school students from Illinois and around the country have spent the past two weeks at the Summer Forensics Institute selecting, editing, practicing and ultimately performing a variety of performance pieces. Each step of the way, the students are coached and encouraged by members of the Bradley University Speech Team. The program has been shaping forensics competitors for nearly 50 years. This year’s camp is one of the largest, hosting nearly 100 high school students on campus.

“We teach them the full process from finding and researching a topic, outlining the performance, memorization and then delivery,” said Ken Young, Bradley’s director of forensics and a former member of the Bradley Speech Team. “It’s rare that you find a camp that does all of this.”

The day begins with a morning lecture with workshops and coaching sessions throughout the day. At the end of the two weeks, campers perform their completed event in a competition and receive feedback from staff members. Winners perform their piece at a banquet and are awarded scholarships to be used for the camp or attending Bradley. Besides training, campers get to have a bit of fun, too. There is a dance, a staff-versus-campers volleyball game and other events.

“We treat these high school student as members of the Bradley Speech Team. They get an inside look at the program,” said Young, who has worked with the camp for 10 years.

Claire Bratzel, 17, from Wheaton, Ill., said she enjoying performing and learning from an award-winning speech team. Bradley has won 141 individual national titles and 39 team sweepstakes over the last 30 years.

“The staff is extremely smart and talented. It’s nice to know that I’m not just getting advice from someone who did forensics in high school,” she said. “Their awards back up what they are telling me.”

Bratzel said the camp and its staff have also opened her eyes to Bradley University as a possible school to attend after graduating high school. “Now I’m seriously considering applying,” she said after attending the camp for her second year in a row.

Even if high school students decide not to continue competing in forensics, the campers still come away having learned something they can use outside of the forensics world. The two-weeks of practice and performance can build up confidence, public speaking skills and work ethic.

“This camp gives them an opportunity to say, ‘I did this. I took two weeks out of my summer to create this,’” said Kaybee Brown, a camp counselor and transfer student to Bradley who will study theatre arts in the fall. “They get to stand up in front of 20 or 30 people and perform. If that isn’t something to learn from, I don’t know what is.”

Brown, 22, from Chicago, said the camp participants are not the only ones improving their abilities. As a counselor to seven campers, Brown said he gains a deeper understanding by walking students through their pieces and is exposed to new ways of approaching his speeches.

“Every time the students are learning something, I’m learning something,” he said.