When more than 20 institutions from across the state came to campus March 4 and 5 for the Illinois Intercollegiate Forensic Association Tournament, the competition served as an NIU homecoming for nine of those school’s forensic coaches.
Judy Santacaterina, director of individual events at NIU, was excited to have her former students make a return to campus in a coaching capacity. She said she takes pride in their success and looks forward to the challange of competing against them, although it can be a bit daunting at times.
“It’s wonderful to see all of our alumni come back,” Santacaterina said. “And in the state of Illinois, if you look at those 20 schools that are here, you will find nine of them who have directors of forensics who are NIU alums. I don’t know if there’s a home field advantage in forensics, but when you’re competing against your former students, it makes for an interesting concept.”
Former NIU student Kari Schimmel, director of forensics at Illinois Central College in East Peroria, says the tournament is a great opportunity to spend time with many of her fellow forensics alumni.
“This tournament is really special for a lot of us who are alum,” Schimmel said. “It’s like a homecoming.”
Schimmel, who was coached by Santacaterina during her time at NIU, praised her former mentor for the success many of the forensics alumni are experiencing.
“To have half of the programs in the state, whose directors came from this program, is really incredible and speaks to the rich tradition and culture of this program,” Schimmel said. “You really have to understand what a testament it is to Judy as a coach.”
Santacaterina has spent more than 30 years teaching and coaching the NIU forensics team, but creating the bond she shares with her current and former students makes it worth her while.
“People often ask, ‘How have you stayed in this activity for such a long time?’ And I often ask myself that,” Santacaterina said, “but I don’t have to look much further than to our alums. It’s family. So as much as it’s stressful, and a lot of work, it’s rewarding.”
Schimmel added that the reputation of NIU forensics and its alumni is seen across the country.
“It’s known, not just in the state, but nationally,” Schimmel said. “People actually refer to us as the NIU mafia. We’re a family.”
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