National Forensic League

National Forensic League
National Forensic League
Type Non Profit Organization
Founded 1925
Headquarters Ripon, Wisconsin
Key people William Woods Tate Jr, President
Donald Eugene Crabtree, Vice President
J. Scott Wunn, Executive Director

The National Forensic League is a non-partisan, non-profit educational honor society established to encourage and motivate American high school students to participate in and become proficient in the forensic arts: debate, public speaking and interpretation. NFL is the America's oldest and largest high school speech and debate honor society. Since 1925, NFL has enrolled over 1.3 million students in fulfillment of its motto, "training youth for leadership."[1]

The organization is the central agent for coordination and facilitation of heightened public awareness of the value of speech communication skills, development of educational initiatives for student and teacher training, excellence in interscholastic competition, and the promotion of honor society ideals.

NFL is one of four major U.S. national organizations which direct high school competitive public speaking events. (The other three are the National Catholic Forensic League or NCFL, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association or NCFCA, and STOA USA.) The NFL Board of Directors meets twice a year for rules revision. It votes on each rule change, which affects the entire high school forensics community.

The word "forensic" is an adjective meaning "of public debate or argument." The word is derived from the Latin word forensis, meaning "of the forum." The sense of the word "forensic" that means "pertaining to legal trials" dates from the 17th century (Oxford English Dictionary) and led to the use of the word "forensics" in reference to legal evidence.


Mission statement

"The National Forensic League believes that all students should be empowered to become effective communicators, ethical individuals, critical thinkers, and leaders in a democratic society. We exist to promote secondary school speech and debate activities and interscholastic competition as a means to develop a student’s lifelong skills and values and to increase the public’s awareness of the value of speech, debate and communication education."[2]

Code of Honor

Members of the National Forensic League are expected to abide by the NFL Code of Honor, adopted on September 23, 2007.[3] The Code of Honor was initially proposed by Harold Keller, a member of the Board of Directors, in recognition of the Honor Society nature of the League. The Code of Honor consists of an NFL Oath and five tenets.

NFL Oath

"As a member of the National Forensic League, I pledge to uphold the highest standards of integrity, humility, respect, leadership and service in the pursuit of excellence."

Integrity: An NFL member obeys the highest ethical standards and adheres to the rules of the League. NFL members recognize that integrity is central to earning the trust, respect, and support of one's peers. Integrity encompasses the highest regard for honesty, civility, justice and fairness.

Humility: An NFL member does not regard him or herself more highly than others. Regardless of a person's level of success, he or she always looks beyond oneself to appreciate the inherent value of others.

Respect: An NFL member respects individual differences and fosters diversity. He or she promotes tolerance, inclusion and empowerment for people from a variety of backgrounds.

Leadership: An NFL member influences others to take positive action toward productive change. NFL members commit to thoughtful and responsible leadership which promotes the other core values in the NFL Code of Honor.

Service: An NFL member exercises the talents he or she has been given to provide service to his or her peers, community, and the League. At all times an NFL member is prepared to work constructively to improve the lives of others.


The early years

Bruno E. Jacob, a professor at Ripon College, first envisioned the League after receiving a letter which inquired whether an honor society existed for high school debaters. Noting that no such society existed, Jacob drafted and circulated a proposal for what would become America's oldest and largest high school debate and speech honor society. NFL welcomed its first member school on March 28, 1925.

NFL grew in both membership and organization during the next few years. In 1926, NFL chartered one hundred high schools. In 1927, the League began producing The Bulletin, a professional newsletter that served as the forerunner to today’s Rostrum magazine. Chapter manuals, jeweled insignia pins, and other organizational items emerged during this time. One of the most significant changes came in 1930, when Jacob proposed a national speech tournament for NFL members. The following year, the first NFL National Tournament was held at Ripon College with 49 schools from 17 states competing. Miami, Oklahoma, won the first national championship in high school debate.

In spite of economic turmoil, NFL continued to grow during the Great Depression. National Tournament winners appeared on an NBC network program and CBS broadcast the championship debate. In 1938, the first Student Congress was held in conjunction with the National Tournament and Poetry Reading was formalized as a consolation event. To encourage and channel its growth, the Board of Directors voted to increase requirements for membership and degrees while abolishing most of its student fees. This practice was hoped to incentivize excellence while increasing access to League opportunities. With the onset of World War II, NFL suspended its National Tournament. However, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Student Congress continued to meet.

Recognizing the need for community service during this time in America's history, the Board of Directors approved an emergency war schedule of service points to be awarded for speeches made to school and community audiences. As World War II neared its end, the concept of service points was written into the League’s constitution to promote service among NFL members. The National Tournament resumed in 1947.

The mid-20th century

In the mid-20th century, NFL experienced another growth spurt. Jacob resigned his teaching position at Ripon College in order to devote his full attention to the NFL. He traveled approximately 20,000 miles a year, mostly by car, visiting members of the League and offering his support. At the same time, the League was incorporated and engaged its first Assistant Secretary to increase its services to members. These administrative changes were rewarded with increased membership, as the 100,000th League membership was recorded in December 1957.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of transition for the NFL. After decades of service, Jacob retired as Executive Secretary, and President Karl E. Mundt soon followed. League leadership was restructured as NFL expanded to include 44 districts and the Board of Directors was increased by two members. New awards were also introduced, including recognition for leading schools and the NFL Hall of Fame, which recognized outstanding forensic coaches and educators. Humorous Interpretation and Lincoln-Douglas debate were added as main events at Nationals, expanding the number of opportunities available to students. In 1975, NFL celebrated its golden anniversary, which included a move into its own building.

As society began to embrace technology, NFL worked to incorporate this new field into its mission and services. In the 1980s, NFL began videotaping final rounds as a means of preserving the history of the contest. As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, NFL developed and refined its web site to extend opportunities for students previously marginalized by geographic or fiscal constraints. In this vein, NFL turned its attention toward engaging previously underserved communities. During the 1991-92 school year, Phillips Petroleum made a major gift to NFL to promote speech education in rural and urban communities. A few years later, the National Junior Forensic League was established to serve junior high and middle schools. The Barbara Jordan Youth Debates, made possible by the Kaiser Family Foundation, were held for urban debaters. As a result of these and other NFL outreach efforts, the 900,000th member was recorded in the mid-1990s.

The millennium

At the millennium, new award opportunities, including the Academic All-American Awards and the National Student of the Year award, were established to recognize excellence in scholarship and character. The NFL Code of Honor was adopted in 2007 to promote the holistic development of youth: its tenets include integrity, humility, respect, leadership and service. Since its founding, the NFL has enrolled over 1,264,888 members in all fifty states, U. S. possessions and several foreign countries. Currently over 93,000 high school students and over 6,500 high school teachers are active members. Prominent NFL alumni include Senators Russ Feingold, Richard Lugar and William Frist, media visionary Ted Turner, Academy Award winners Patricia Neal and Don Ameche, Emmy award winners Kelsey Grammer and Shelley Long, television host Oprah Winfrey, news anchors Jane Pauley and the late David Bloom, C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Federal National Mortgage CEO Franklin Delano Raines, actors Brad Pitt and Zac Efron, and musician David Cook.

The NFL National Tournament continues to be held annually, featuring competition in Policy Debate, Lincoln Douglas Debate, Legislative Debate, Public Forum (Ted Turner) Debate, United States Extemporaneous Speaking, International Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Commentary, Impromptu Speaking, Prose Reading, Poetry Reading, Expository Speaking and Storytelling. Over $153,000 in college scholarships are awarded at each national tournament, making it possible for students to pursue post-secondary education.

In October 2010, the NFL released the November Public Forum resolution which was met with much controversy. The resolution was "Resolved: An Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero." A mere 24 hours after announcing the topic, the NFL retracted it.[4] This resolution was replaced with "Resolved: High school Public Forum Debate resolutions should not confront sensitive religious issues." The new topic was listed on the NFL website with an explanation for replacing the initial resolution: “Overwhelming concerns have been expressed by our membership regarding the November 2010 resolution,” notes the National Forensic League in a just-released statement. “The Public Forum wording advisory committee worked diligently and thoughtfully to create a timely resolution. However, after due consideration, the National Forensic League has changed the November 2010 Public Forum resolution. We realize that it is unusual to change a topic after posting. We hope that this new resolution will allow educators and competitors to explore core issues that face high school academic debate.”[5] This topic remains one of the most ambiguous Public Forum topics to date and many coaches of Public Forum have found this topic very difficult for first year teams to start with.


Each year, the NFL hosts the National Speech and Debate Tournament. This tournament attracts over 3000 high school students who compete for national honors in a wide variety of events. These events include:

Students who qualify to the National Tournament in a main event yet are eliminated in the preliminary rounds may participate in one of the following Supplemental Events:

In addition to Supplemental Events, these Consolation Events are also held at the National Tournament:

There is also an event that is being taken through a test phase. This event is called parliamentary debate. It is being tested and if it turns out to be a success, it will be inducted as a official NFL event.

All the above events are NFL-sponsored events which one can compete in at the NFL National Tournament. There is also talk of Prose and Poetry becoming full events at the National Tournament, but no additional information has been provided.[citation needed]


Double-ruby award pin earned with 500 points. The sterling silver pin is 1 inch (2.5 cm) tall.

Those who participate in competitive forensics earn points for their efforts. In the debate events, a win in a round is worth six points while a loss is worth three. In the speech events, there are three point brackets; original speeches, worth six points, interpretation events, worth five points, and speaking events, worth four points. Six-point events include Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, and Expository; first place in one of these rounds earns a competitor six points, second earns the competitor five, third earns four, etc. Five-point events include Prose, Poetry, Humorous Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation. The four-point event category is reserved for events such as Impromptu Speaking.

National Forensic League Points (NFL points) are employed in the scoring system used by the National Forensic League to rank competitors' lifetime progress, and to determine how many competitors a school may register in an NFL District Tournament.

In debate events, the winner (or both members of the winning team) each earn six points, and the loser earns three. In speaking events, points vary with the speaker's place in the round. Competitors in events that involve creating original material such as: Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking (FX), Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking (DX), Original Oratory (OO), Lincoln-Douglas Debate (LD), Public Forum Debate (PF) and Policy Debate (CX) each earn more points than competitors in events that involve interpreting previously published material such as Prose (PR), Poetry (PO), Humorous Interpretation (HI), Duet Acting (DA), and Dramatic Interpretation (DI). The least expected points are categorized in "Speaking" events. These include Impromptu (Imp), and any other optional speaking events. In years past, Student Congress (StuCo) speeches given each received a score of up to six points. New NFL rules now allow up to eight points per speech. Commonly, more than one judge scores each speech in Student Congress, so in this case the scores of the judges are averaged and rounded up to calculate the speech score.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Points Earned:
Original Speech
Points Earned:
Points Earned:

Prior to August 2010, members could only earn up to 750 points in each of the three areas of competition: debate, speaking events (original oratory, extemporaneous speaking and the interpretative events) and Student Congress. However, this point cap was abolished at the beginning of the 2010-2011 Season to encourage higher levels of competition.

Members can also earn "service points," which accrue for certain activities outside of speech competition. Delivering speeches before audiences of twenty-five or more adults, for instance, earns a fixed number of service points.

As members accumulate points, they earn NFL degrees. Each degree corresponds to the jeweling pattern of an NFL pin which the degree-holder is authorized to wear, and to a seal which will be placed on the degree-holder's membership certificate. The following are the Membership Degrees:


Point archive: coach/instructor

School instructors also receive points, which are dependent upon their students' performances. The instructor receives 1/10 of a point for each point received by one of the instructor's students. The better the team, the better recognition of the instructor. Instructors follow exactly the same degree as students; however, an instructor receives a diamond after accumulating point totals of 1,500, 3,000 and every 3,000 points thereafter. All instructor points are dependent on the performance of the instructor's team, although the coach or coaches decide how to award accumulated coaching points among themselves.


According to the National Forensic League, any participating high school person who has attained 25 points becomes a member of the organization. However, this new member is required to pay a $15 lifetime fee. Even though membership is lifelong, one can only compete as a high school student (although coaches may receive points as well, as explained above). The lifetime ranking of an NFL member is determined by his or her Point Score, explained in the Point Archive.


The Rostrum is the official monthly magazine of the National Forensic League. The magazine was originally titled the Bulletin and was first published in 1926. Since its creation, the Rostrum has evolved into a forum for debate education and news, soliciting articles from coaches and debaters. The Rostrum is a popular place for debate camps and brief companies to place their advertisements supporting the magazine. The Rostrum is free to all NFL members, and also contains information on results from the national tournament, opinion pieces on the evolving debate world, and strategy tips for debaters.

Other NFL Publications include an NJFL newsletter, which is distributed to members of the National Junior Forensic League, and the Alumni Connection magazine.

State leagues

While the National Speech and Debate Tournament and the qualifying District Competitions are hosted by the NFL, most forensics tournaments during the school year operate under the auspices of other organizations. Chief among them are the state speech leagues, such as:

In other states, speech is classed with other high school interscholastic competition and is overseen by the same organization as football, basketball and gymnastics such as:

State leagues operate independently. Some leagues sponsor events not offered by the NFL. These events may still qualify for NFL points, however.

See also


External links

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