April 18, 2001

Cornell Student Ranks First in AFA Tournament

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In a tournament deemed by many competitors to be the most prestigious speech and debate event in the nation, Stephen Zammit ’01, an active member of the Cornell Forensics Society, placed first in persuasive speaking.

Zammit won the tournament’s Pentathlon Award — an honor given annually to twenty competitors in order of final rankings in the tournament — out of 499 competitors from 101 different schools.

The National Individual Events Tournament, hosted by the American Forensics Association and described by Zammit as a “tournament of champions,” is an exclusive event for those students who have met a series of strict qualifications. To qualify, students must earn a certain number of points which can only be obtained by finaling in at least three different events at other tournaments with high rankings.

One of his six events at the tournament, Zammit’s persuasive speech involving the need for laws preventing genetic discrimination, won first place in the nation. He also placed second, third and fourth in three of his other speech events, respectively.

This extensive involvement in the tournament made him eligible for the Pentathlon Award, based on a point score and available only to students who compete in at least five events. Zammit ranked number one out of the twenty students who received this award.

Zammit has been involved in forensics for over seven years now, including four years on Cornell’s team. As a senior member of the team, he spends much of his time as a mentor to the younger competitors.

“Steve is one of the few varsity members on the team,” said Kevin Sheldon ’02, a member of Cornell Forensics Society. “In an organization with a small coaching staff, he has taken it upon himself to be a teacher to the students on the team, as well as a tremendous competitor.”

The time commitment involved in the activity, according to Zammit, “is tremendous, but manageable.”

The Cornell Forensics Society has traveled to over ten different tournaments just this year, all over the country, from Illinois to Colorado. “The time spent with friends on the road makes the work that much more enjoyable,” Zammit added.

Zammit’s role on the team goes beyond his individual competition, according to Jethro Hayman, director of forensics. “You won’t find too many people like Steve. This is the type of student coaches only dream about,” said Hayman. “He is extremely focused and dedicated to the team, and he takes what he does very seriously.”

According to Hayman, at this recent tournament, Zammit did the best in his weakest event and the worst in his strongest event, a testimony of his tremendous drive.

“Things weren’t going his way, but he applied his energy into his other events,” said Hayman. “I think that is pretty phenomenal.”

Hayman also commented on Zammit’s modesty and unique work ethic. “He has a very special type of approach to his work. People see this approach and want to bottle it up,” said Hayman. “He works mentally against himself, always seeing room for improvement, and never has a problem accepting criticism.”

Zammit leaves today, along with three of his team members, to close out the semester with another national tournament, this time held at Western Kentucky University. This tournament will host over 100 schools from around the nation.

Even after the year’s competition is over and Zammit graduates from Cornell, he plans to continue involvement next year in coaching the Cornell team.

“We are very lucky to have had someone so dedicated to this team,” said Hayman. “And it looks like Steve is committed to this team forever.”

Archived article by Aylin Tanyeri