February 7, 2014

Quite often in the world of competition – and in life at large – underdog stories are sold as re-hashing the millennia-old tale of “David and Goliath.”

Keep in mind of course, that in that story, the underdog won rather handily. And given that fact, perhaps David-status isn’t so inappropriate for Southeastern Illinois College, whose small rural campus has been churning out national champions in competition for decades.

At the top of the list of success stories at the small rural campus of just over 2,000 students is the Forensic Falcons speech team.

The team started with debate in 1970, made its first appearance at the national tournament in 1973 in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and has been racking up trophies ever since, against schools picking from talent pools regularly four or five times that of SIC, and even much larger than that at times. SIC’s forensics team hit the top 10 in the late 1970s and earned its first national title in forensics in 1986, with additional titles following in 1997 and 2005. The Forensic Falcons have landed in the national top five of team rankings for 23 of the last 24 years, with dozens upon dozens of individual championships.

Director of Forensics Paul Cummins said the secret to such a rich tradition of excellence was an unwavering, long-lived belief that Southeastern’s students could accomplish great things.

“Gary Allen and George Dennis built this program on the belief that our students at Southeastern were champion material, and that philosophy has been the cornerstone of our program ever since,” said Cummins.

Even more recent entries into the list of competitive teams at SIC have attained high marks. The SIC shotgun team began competition in 2008, and after ascending from third place finish in 2009 to second place in 2010, captured the Division I national championship at the ACUI National Tournament in 2011 – the top event in their field. The team also brought home a 2012 Division II HOA championship at the ACUI event, followed by a second place finish in 2013, all in fields featuring not only community colleges, but also huge four-year universities such as the University of Missouri, the University of Texas, the University of Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and more.

"It has been a privilege to grow and work with such talented shooters as those on our shotgun team,” said Bruce Hering, SIC’s shotgun team coach. “National Championship ranking for a small community school such as ours is significant in showing interest and ability in the shooting sports.  I look forward to our continued success and anticipate the same from our new pistol team."

The SIC Archery team is an even more recent addition, but has fared extremely well also. In its brief two-year history, the competitors representing SIC have brought home five national championships in outdoor 3D competition. Like the shotgun team, the archery squad does not compete merely against other community colleges, but against major Division I teams including Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Missouri.

“The archery program at Southeastern Illinois College has been nothing short of amazing,” said coach Archie Blair. “It’s one of many outstanding competitive programs at Southeastern and represents excellence at the highest level in a sport that reflects the unique culture and lifestyle of our college district.”

Southeastern’s basketball teams have also acquitted themselves well on the national level throughout their history. The men reached the national tournament in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010, with a top finish of fourth place in 2004. The women’s team, meanwhile, made an appearance at nationals in 1990, as well as five straight trips from 2004 to 2008, including a fourth place finish in 2007.

"SIC has always prided itself both in and out of the classroom as a quality institution," said Dean of Student Services Chad Flannery.  "Bigger does not mean better.  We know our students and don't treat them like just another number.”

Bethany Oxford, a 2013 graduate of SIC and a two-year forensic team member, said of her time on a top-ranked SIC team, “I not only learned how to give award winning speeches, but I learned much hard work really can pay off. The coaches at SIC hold their students to such a high standard because they know what we are capable of achieving. Being part of such a great team with such a great legacy is something I will cherish forever."