Speech team senior Andrew Neylon and captain makes history at national competition
It was the rain that brought Mrs. Brown’s kindergarten class outside. She was covering science and the forming rainbow was the perfect excuse to go out.
The students pointed out the different colors they saw: green, orange, purple.
Andrew Neylon said he saw the blue and the green, the red, the orange, the yellow and the purple.
But the 5-year-old was lying to hide his color blindness.
This was the opening scene Neylon, now a Ball State senior English literature major, created when giving his first speech his junior year at Fishers High School.
When Neylon approached his high school speech coach Matt Rund, he disclosed that he’s legally blind and color blind.
“I always have to be like, ‘Hey, I don’t see very well. Here’s my form,’” he said. “And he was immediately like, ‘You need to write a speech about this.’”
Neylon said Rund gave him a week to write the speech.
“I wrote it the night before and turned it in, and that was actually the speech I ended up running for the entire year,” he said.
Neylon was one of the three state finalists in a team of about 40 to go to nationals. He would go on to do speech for the next six years and become the 2014 Individual Sweepstakes Champion at the National Forensic Association for the Ball State speech team.
He would be the first pentathlon champion in Ball State Speech Team history.
The speech team competed at the NFA National competition last weekend at Eastern Michigan University. The team of 14 students and four coaching staff held its own against competitors like Western Kentucky University, which took first place with a 40-member team.
“We were sort of the underdogs at the tournament,” said Mary Moore, instructor of communication studies and the director of individual events. “So for us, it’s kind of being vulnerable to set our goals really high and then work toward them and achieve them.”
The last time the team was in the top five at NFA was back in the 1970s, when the team got first in 1972 and 1973 and third in 1975.
“In our community, there is a big division between the first five teams and the other teams, so to break into the top five is really difficult,” Moore said. “So it was beyond our expectations.”
Moore said the team was hoping to place fifth to beat last year’s ranking. The group took 59 events, nine of which Neylon competed in.
A student is allowed to compete in 11 events, but Neylon said it isn’t recommended with the amount of time it takes.
“As someone who did nine, I don’t think it’s possible,” Neylon said. “I’m amazed that I got out of five of them because sometimes I was battling exhaustion just trying to stay present and cognizant, and deliver these speeches in a way that stays fresh.”
He placed seven events, first in rhetorical criticism.
The person that came in second place for the pentathlon confronted Neylon after awards.
“Dude, you put your foot through this tournament,” the competitor from Western Kentucky University said.
Neylon said to hear that was validating.
“It’s expected that a person from Western will do their best, but for Ball State to win, in some ways I had a lot less advantages,” Neylon said.
He won by a 41-point margin, with second place getting 147 points and third getting 146.
“He was sort of the anchor to our team’s success this year,” Moore said.
Neylon joined the speech team his freshman year, the same time Moore was rejoining the team.
Moore had been the coach in 2005 and 2006 when the team was in the top 10 in the country, but she left the team for three years before returning.
“It was sort of like she was bringing a new vision, and I was new on the team,” Neylon said. “So it was a really good combination. It was really the perfect storm.”
Moore said she enjoyed seeing Neylon grow during his four years on the team.
“Andrew is sort of one of a kind,” Moore said. “We knew as a freshman that he was better than any other freshman that we would ever had. He’s sort of like the Heisman Trophy winner of a season.
“So we feel kind of happy to kind of watch him grow, but he came to us good.”
In early April, the team competed at the 37th annual American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament at Arizona State University. With four students, the team placed 11th at a tournament with more than 80 schools and 1,500 entries.
Neylon and Huy Pham, a junior architecture major, walked out of the tournament as national champions in their entry divisions. Neylon took fourth in the nation in individual sweepstakes.
“This would be the equivalent of us making the Final Four in basketball in the speech world,” Moore said. “Speech team is kind of like a club thing that somebody would do, but it’s more like an athletic sort of experience.”
Winning is only part of it, Neylon said.
“Of course you want to win, of course you want to get recognition,” he said. “But to really to do justice to the topic is one of the things that’s become kind of a meme for the whole team recently. Pick a topic that is better than you. Pick something that you’re going to spend your year trying to do justice to.”
Neylon said he uses a Robert Frost quote — “No tears in the author, no tears in the reader” — as a way to help choose topics.
At the AFA tournament, Neylon gave an impromptu speech on gun violence with a concentration on Chicago, an issue for which he felt strongly.
“After the speech was done, everyone was like, ‘Oh, it was beautiful’ and ‘Oh, it was so heartbreaking and so emotional,’ and I just wanted to be by myself and cry because gun violence is so sad,” Neylon said.
He placed first.
Though Neylon’s success helped booster the team, both Neylon and Moore both said the fourth place title was a group effort.
“We needed all of the students from our freshmen who maybe only had a couple of events to someone like [Andrew] who took nine events to the national tournament to achieve their individual goals,” Moore said.
That includes members like Berkley Connor, a junior psychology major, who took third in her after dinner speech, a public address event that infuses humor with an important topic.
Neylon said his tone and outlook on his color blindness has changed since he gave his first speech as a high school junior. At both AFA and NFA, he did his after dinner speech on the discrimination he faced in the speech circuits because of his invisible disability.
“[The high school speech] was more about me discovering that there were beautiful things about having a disability,” Neylon said. “This one is more about why is when I ask for certain rights, I’m not treated like everyone else is and that has a much more political edge. It has a much more demanding edge. It has much more persuasive edge, and that really speaks to how your mind changes about concepts like discrimination over the course of six years.”
Though speech has been a part of Neylon’s life for the last six years, Neylon said NFA was his last tournament.
“I have been working at this for eight months, but also for six years, but also for 22 years,” he said. “[But] I think Berkley Connor and Huy Pham, my two best friends on the team and two juniors who made national finals, would be more equipped to keep the flame alive.”