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UW-RF's Pratt Honored For National Leadership

December 11, 1998

By Mary Sandelands
UW-RF News Bureau

When he was 14, James Pratt decided to compete in an oratory contest. He went on his first airplane ride and competed at the national level. "This is fun," thought Pratt.

Now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Pratt is being recognized for the 40 years he's devoted to forensics. The American Forensic Association recently gave Pratt its most prestigious award, the Distinguished Service Award.

Pratt has been involved with AFA for 32 years, and it's a group whose recognition of his contributions carries a lot of meaning.

"It is always an honor to be recognized in this way by your peers," says Pratt.

The award is presented for a lifetime of distinguished service in the forensics community.

John Burtis, chairperson of the AFA professional development and award committee, says that Pratt's involvement has been exceptional.

Dale Herbeck, chair of the communication department at Boston College, says he nominated Pratt because of the time and contributions Pratt has made for AFA.

According to Herbeck, Pratt has held all of AFA's elected offices and served with distinction as director of the National Individual Events Tournament.

"I thought it was time that he was finally recognized for all his work," says Herbeck.

He adds Pratt is one of the leading forensic professors in the United States.

However, a critical factor was Pratt's financial acumen that rescued the organization from dissolution because of declining membership. "Professor Pratt, along with help from several other notable individuals, saved AFA from financial disaster," says Herbeck.

When AFA was going through some trying fiscal times, Pratt stepped forward and solved the problem. As Herbeck put it, "We desperately needed someone like James Pratt to step up to the plate."

AFA was practically bankrupt in the 1980's. Pratt personally guaranteed a loan that helped AFA pay off its debts and took the time to encourage members of AFA to renew their membership. Pratt not only rescued AFA from bankruptcy, but also managed to double its memberships.

"Jim Pratt saved the day," explained Herbeck.

According to Herbeck, Pratt has been with AFA for such a long time most people assumed that he had already won the national award. He went on to say that one could argue that Pratt should have received this award any of the past 15 years. "Pratt has done a phenomenal job serving AFA," says Herbeck.

Burtis explains Pratt was overlooked because he has remained active in the organization while recognition awards are presented after AFA executives leave office.

Volunteering for AFA as their executive secretary, Pratt says that he would not be able to do his job without the support he receives from UW-River Falls where he conducts AFA activites in addition to his teaching assignments and coaches the UW-RF forensics team.

He went on to say that the University also has sponsored travel for his research and recognizes and acknowledges its value. Pratt says he particularly enjoys his relationship with his students. "I take joy in my students' accomplishments," says Pratt.

Pratt professional activities in forensics also includes extensive research and presentations. He has made lectured all over the United States and in England and Wales.

Pratt says he s honored to receive the award and recognition. When it comes to forensics, he says, "This is quite simply my life."

Gordon Hendahl, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at UW-River Falls, says that he was extremely pleased to learn of Pratt's recognition from the forensics community. Hendahl says such awards only come after distinguished service, and too often those contributions go unnoticed.

Hendahl says that Pratt is popular with and respected by his colleagues and this award will help others learn about the quality of the forensics program at UW-RF.

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