The Tennessee State University forensics team is now a back-to-back champion. They are not only forensics national champions, but reigning as the top HBCU forensics team. Get the full story from Lucas Johnson on the team that has tackled prison systems, the effect of COVID-19 on prisoners of color, and more.

Credit: Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University’s Forensics team was recently named the overall national champions and the top HBCU speech and debate team in the country for the second consecutive year.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s HBCU National Speech and Debate Championship was held virtually Feb. 27-28. It featured 14 historically black colleges and universities. In addition to the overall win, TSU’s team walked away with 10 national championship titles, 54 total awards, and the top overall speaker in the tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

“The coaching staff and I are so proud of these students and what they were able to accomplish this season during a time like this,” said Sean Allen, a professor and TSU’s Director of Forensics.  “The switch from traveling during the year to suddenly learning to compete virtually was not an easy feat for the students nor the coaches. Not to mention, most of our practice sessions had to be done virtually. Keeping these students motivated was challenging, but they ultimately came together for their love of the activity and were able to make their best showing at the tournament to date.”

TSU sophomore Maya McClary placed first in the “Persuasive Speaking” category. She talked about the impact COVID-19 has had on prison systems, particularly the disparity in the death rate among black and white inmates. Statistics show 60 percent of inmates dying from the coronavirus are African American.

McClary said adjusting to competing virtually was challenging, but she credited coaches Allen and TSU Professor Earnest Mack with preparing the students to compete, regardless of the circumstance.

“Our coaches do a great job of making sure we’re left with little room for excuses,” said McClary, a mass communications major from Orlando, Florida. “During this pandemic, it was very difficult. But our coaches always require the best out of us. Because of our work ethic, it allowed us to do well.”

Credit: Tennessee State University

Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at TSU, said the Forensics team’s success once again “showcases TSU excellence.”

“These results demonstrate the continued commitment of our faculty and students to lift student voices and their presence in the world,” said Morgan-Curtis.

Dr. Tameka Winston, Mass Communications Department Chair and Associate Vice President at TSU, agreed.

“Our talented students continue to display excellence and I’m so proud of their hard work,” said Winston. “I had the opportunity to attend the virtual championship this year and our students represented the university and the department well. Our wonderful coaches prepared our students to consistently produce and operate on the highest level. The next goal is to earn this title in 2022 and continue to take our team and the forensics area to new heights.”

Other Forensics team members that placed top in their categories include: Trey Gibson, “After Dinner Speaking”, “Poetry Interpretation”, and “Overall Individual Speaker”; Tayneria Gooden, “Program of Oral Interpretation”; Tayneria Gooden and Kierstan Tate, “Duo Interpretation”; Trae Hubbard, “Prose Interpretation”; and Chase Garrett, “Dramatic Interpretation”.

The TSU Forensics team, which claimed first place in “Individual Event Champions” and “Overall Tournament Champions”, will end their season April 16-20 at the National Forensics Association competition, an elite national tournament where students must qualify throughout the year to compete. For the first time in the team’s history, every member of the TSU team secured a qualification to compete in the competition. 

To learn more about TSU’s Forensics team and the Department of Communications, visit