Asa Daniels, senior staff writer
Over the last year, Berry College’s Forensics team has been unable to participate in tournaments across the United States due to the travel restrictions associated with COVID-19. Even more recent plans were hampered by the delta variant, Matthew Delzer, forensics team director, said.
“As of three weeks ago, we had a conference schedule we felt pretty good about and then [the] delta variant really started raging and a lot of the in-person tournaments we were hoping to go to have since switched to online or cancelled,” Delzer said.
Delzer said that the team is still looking for other tournaments to go to and plans to attend a tournament at South Dakota State in October.
Berry faculty and students are allowed to travel, so long as they are vaccinated, Delzer said. Presently, the organizers of Forensics tournaments set the COVID-19 guidelines to follow, including the academic institutions that host them. Delzer explained that most institutions are still trying to figure out their guidelines, but there is a similar pattern of reducing the number of competitions, competing in larger spaces and competing with masks on.
If a Berry student on the team tests positive for COVID-19, they will be isolated and contact tracing will be done to determine who else may need to quarantine. However, one positive case on the team will not prevent the rest of the team from going, Delzer said.
“Forensics is an individual thing, think of it more like track and field, where each person competes in individual events,” Delzer said. “If a student on the forensics team tested positive, we would not take them [to the tournament] and anybody who had been exposed to them as a close contact would mostly likely have to quarantine and not go, but that wouldn’t stop the whole team.”
With the high local case numbers in Rome and Floyd county, Delzer explained that Berry will not be hosting any Forensics competitions at this time.
“Because of the spread in Rome [and] Floyd, we would not feel comfortable hosting a tournament and bringing lots of people here but if that starts to change, we’ll hopefully be able to bring people to campus and try a little competition,” Delzer said.
However, Delzer added that there are plans to attempt to host a scrimmage with Carson-Newman University, utilizing outdoor spaces on a small scale. Additionally, there are plans being made for a national competition in March and the guidelines at this event that will be needed for COVID-19 safety.
Delzer said that, while he believes wearing masks is detrimental to the Forensics experience, he is happy to follow guidelines necessary for student safety.
“So much [of] what we do is communication activity, and so much communication is non-verbal, [but] you’re covering up two-thirds of your face, and it makes it really difficult to emote and engage in the same way,” Delzer said. “So that is a frustration and issue we have to face, but it’s a necessary evil.”
Senior Erika Becerra, co-captain of the Forensics team, also believes that masks are necessary to help keep some level of normalcy to her college Forensics experience.
“In a way it’s taking away the typical college experience but also, I’ve had a lot of friends get really sick from COVID, [and] the thing that would make my college experience unnormal [would be] to get incredibly sick and that would be very unfortunate,” Becerra said.
Becerra is also excited for the potential return to in-person competitions. She found it difficult to stay motivated during online tournaments done last year.
“It was a lot harder to feel motivated to compete in those events and get your events ready when you’re probably going to compete once in the whole year – and once you use an event menu you can’t reuse it at the next [event], so I don’t want to prepare all of these things and spend hours preparing this event just to get to use it at one online tournament against, like, two other schools,” Becerra said.
Senior Vanessa Fowler, co-captain of the Forensics team, is also looking forward to doing competitions in-person rather than online.
“We tried to do a lot of online tournaments and stuff, with Zoom and everything, but we found it just wasn’t as educational as doing it in-person,” Fowler said.
While Delzer finds the uncertainty of the future difficult to navigate, he said that he looks forward to trying to provide the best he can for students on the team.
“We’re in a state of constant flux and we’re just trying to do the best for our students that we can,” Delzer said. “We don’t know what the world looks like three weeks from now, or three months from now, but we’re going to plan to try to give the best experience that we can for our students.”