After a nine-year drought, members of Absegami High School Forensics Team are hoping to literally talk their way into the state championship this weekend.

And according to their coach, they stand a good chance of pulling it off.

"I would say we're in a better position than we've been in a long time," said Forensics Team coach and teacher Chip Garrison. "We've had a good season leading up to this, and we're feeling strong."

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The public-speaking and dramatic performance team, which competes with other high schools in the New Jersey Drama and Forensics League, will travel to Raritan High School in Hazlet, Monmouth County, on Feb. 22 in a quest to bring home the Looby Cup, the prestigious top prize in league competition.

All told, 21 students have qualified for 42 possible entries in 11 events for the final competition of the league's season, said Garrison, who is also Absegami's Drama Club director and the Stagecraft adviser.

When you hear the word forensics, you might think of crime scenes and laboratories, Garrison explained. But the actual definition of forensics is the art of public speaking and formal debate, or argumentation. If you think about it, he said, studying the breakdown of language and how we use it to solve the puzzle of how we can effectively communicate with each other is very similar to what crime investigators do.

The Absegami High School forensics team has a long history of success, having won the New Jersey Drama Competition for six years running between 1995 and 2000. In 2000, Absegami's team helped start the New Jersey Drama and Forensics League, otherwise known as NJDFL.

In addition to the hundreds of individual speaking awards won by team members through the years, Absegami has always finished at or near the top of the league, Garrison said.

To qualify for the state tournament, participants had to "final," or advance, to the final round of their category in one of six regional tournaments in the months leading up to the championship. The individual speaking/performing events include dramatic monologue, comedic monologue, dramatic acting pairs, comedic acting pairs, oral interpretation of poetry and prose, persuasive speaking, musical theatre duet, impromptu speaking and improvisational acting pairs.

Absegami's record so far this year during preliminary competition has team members feeling optimistic. Practice sessions for the past two weeks have been intense, with students meeting in groups after school or holding sessions at their homes.

"They're excited about the competition and very serious about doing well," said Garrison, who was exposed to competitive public speaking while in college and traveled all over the United States and Canada in collegiate competitions.

Garrison eventually helped create the NJDFL with other high school educators after he started his own teaching career.

"The league is great because it gives students a chance to hone their public speaking and acting skills," he said. "They learn communication and business skills they use all their life. When we host our tournaments here at Absegami, we have a lot of involvement with our alumni who come back and help either as judges or advisers. It really is a worthwhile commitment."

Mainland Regional High School in Linwood also will send a team to the state tournament.

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