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Big talkers: Bradley U. students from Chicago area win national speaking prize

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:03AM



It’s an intercollegiate legacy with more championship team titles than the Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Indiana basketball teams combined.

Since 1978, the Bradley University forensics team has won an astounding 41 national public speaking championships, including winning both intercollegiate national championship competitions this year. Beyond the wins, this year the team set records at both tournaments for the number of points they scored.

Leading this group were three young men from Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs who also helped Bradley win both national championships ­— one sponsored by the American Forensics Association, the other by the National Forensics Association ­­— last year.

That’s not all. This year, for the first time in the history of intercollegiate forensics, students who won the top 5 awards at both tournaments were from the same school, Bradley, the Peoria-based public speaking powerhouse.

“I’m a huge sports fan,” said Jacoby Cochran, 22, a Bradley senior majoring in philosophy and international studies who has won 11 individual national championships in his time at Bradley. “When I see a dynasty I know one.”

Anchoring the team with Cochran, who grew up in a number of different South Side neighborhoods, are Cecil Blutcher, 22, a senior political science major from the Morgan Park neighborhood, and Kaybee Brown, 22, a junior whose family now lives in south suburban Crete and Calumet Park.

Cochran was crowned the American Forensics Association national champion in April. At the 2013 National Forensics Association, Brown was named national champion.

The three young men revel in mastering public speaking, an activity that strikes fear in the heart of many. They fell into it in different ways — Blutcher joined the high school speech team to impress a girl; Cochran started after a knee injury ended his athletic career; Brown’s aunt suggested he give it a try when he was at a Texas junior college.

“I was one of those kids who would always talk back,” said Cochran. “It was not disrespectful. It was more argumentative. But I could not help but to say something else.”

Blutcher said high school forensics allowed him to channel the competitive aspects of sports into performance. Competing for Bradley at the national level kicked it up another notch.

“When I was in high school, I always felt like I was the most motivated and driven person around, that I was the only one who had big dreams that superseded where we were at,” he said. “Doing speech I’m around people who all felt like that. It was a place for me to push myself and push other people to achieve and be the best me that I could be.”

While Bradley actively recruits outstanding high school competitive speakers, the team also has an open door policy. If you want to give it a try, you can, said Ken Young, Bradley’s director of forensics, who is a Bradley alum, five-time national forensics finalist and is married to a fellow former Bradley forensics team member. “The time commitment varies but it certainly becomes a major component,” Young said. “The New York Yankees don’t win the World Series by just kind of hanging out and occasionally practicing. The students practice roughly 10 hours a week.”

Much of the practice is peer coaching, where students watch and critique each other. Young credits his team’s success to their commitment to putting the time in.

“It’s a great challenge every year to try to top what you did,” he said. “They definitely have a stronger work ethic than any other students I’ve ever worked with. Every free moment, every free weekend, we were working on their speeches. It’s just pure will of them wanting so bad to win.”

Blutcher, Cochran and Brown all said that while African Americans are represented in the collegiate forensics world, the fact they are leading a team so nationally dominant hasn’t escaped them. They don’t make a big deal out of it.

“On the one hand, it is what it is,” Cochran said. “None of us is ignorant to the plight of African Americans. We have all done topics on that in some way.”

Blutcher performed a program this year on violence in Chicago neighborhoods. Cochran won an award for a speech he based on a piece by Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell on 13-year-old rapper Lil’ Mouse’s violent lyrics.

“It’s just really the right things happened at the right time,” Brown said.

Brown will be back next year to compete. Blutcher and Cochran are both heading to graduate school, at Penn State and Syracuse respectively.

“It has been an amazing four years,” Cochran said. “I’ve been given the privilege to compete for this program. Now I can walk away after accomplishing my goal to be one of the greats.”



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