Steven Fyten likes to talk. The junior at Pierz High School isn’t intimidated by standing in front of a room filled with strangers and talking, having fun and putting on a show.
It was a good thing for Steven and several other like-minded Pierz students, then, when the speech team at their school was resurrected this year. It had been five years or so since speech was an activity at Pierz, and Steven took full advantage of its return by qualifying for the Class 1A state speech tournament.
Steven told me he likes speech because “It keeps you busy, it gives you something to do. And I do like talking.”
He competed in Humorous Interpretation, one of 13 categories in MSHSL speech. Steven was the Section 5 champion in Humorous Interpretation, which was his ticket to state as his school’s sole representative.
Steven was one of 24 individuals who competed in three preliminary rounds, followed by a championship round, Friday at Lakeville North (Class 2A state speech was held Saturday at the same site). His performance of “Finishing School” by John C. Havens is a hysterical monologue centering on a prim and proper British headmaster.
So here was Steven, a tall young man wearing a maroon shirt, striped tie and black slacks, speaking in a British accent in a high school photography classroom. A couple dozen adults and students watched his performance, one of six in the third round in this room. A judge and a room manager sat up front, with the others taking every seat while a few people sat on the floor.
Along with a British accent, Steven also needed to speak with Russian and Scottish accents while portraying other characters in “Finishing School.”
He was wonderful.
“He likes to play different characters, so that makes the characters in his speech come out,” said Sheri Menden (pictured with Steven), who coaches the Pierz speech team with Andrew Boman. “He likes to meet people, he likes to talk a lot and he is incredibly, incredibly intelligent.”
After the first three rounds, scores are totaled and the top eight speakers in each category advance to the championship round. Steven didn’t advance to the finals, but he was pleased with how the day went, as well as the entire season.
He didn’t know anything about speech when the school year began. He was the narrator for a school musical ("Into the Woods”) in the fall, and Boman – who was new to Pierz and brought back the speech team – told him he had a good speaking voice and should consider trying speech.
“I went to a meeting and it seemed interesting,” Steven said. “He gave us a little slide show that covered it pretty well.”
Once he selected “Finishing School” as his entry, he worked with Menden or Boman three times a week or so for about an hour. Since he’s also on the golf team, this has been a busy spring.
He and his teammates took part in around 10 competitions this season, and at no point did Steven expect to be going to state.
“Oh no, I definitely didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t think I would get that far. It was a pleasant surprise, though.”
At the section tournament, the top three speakers in each category advanced to state. Before the awards were announced, Steven didn’t figure to hear his name called among the top three.
“I was expecting them to call my name for fourth or something, but they saved it for the end,” he said. “It was a little shocking.”
Steven may have been surprised, but Menden wasn’t.
“He doesn’t know this but I talked to his dad before we left (for sections) and I said, ‘If he performs the way he’s performed the last week, he will do really well.’ ”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 628
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,387