I was sitting in a classroom at Blaine High School on Friday afternoon, marveling at each student who competed in the state speech tournament, and one question kept popping up in my head: How many high-profile athletes could do this?
I am an experienced sports reporter, having watched and written about everything from youth sports to professional sports for decades. However, nothing I have seen in the sports arena can compare to what I see at the state speech tournament. The students who take part in this activity are bright, poised, confident and headed toward outstanding futures.
Friday’s event was the Class 2A state speech tournament; Class 1A competition was held Saturday, also at Blaine. In each class, 24 talented students from around the state compete in each of the 13 speech categories. The state entrants are determined through section events, with the top three advancing from each section. There are four rounds of competition at state; after three rounds the top eight participants advance to the championship round. Judges make the calls.
It can be a formal undertaking, with entrants dressed nicely; males in suits and ties and females in business suits. And oh boy are they sharp … in mind as well as dress.
I couldn’t attend sessions in each category, so I made some random selections and witnessed Serious Interpretation-Drama, Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Interpretation. (Other categories include Informative Speaking, Creative Expression, Storytelling, Great Speeches and more.)
Like most sports, speech uses a clock. In the categories I watched, the clock time was seven or eight minutes. Each competition room is overseen by a room manager, who keeps a stopwatch and holds up cards to inform the students of their remaining time. The room manager also informs spectators of the rules: no photos or video, turn off your cell phones, drinks are OK but sip only between speakers, please.
A very common sight at speech events might be reason for alarm elsewhere: students standing all by themselves in the school hallways, staring at the wall and talking to themselves. They are, of course, rehearsing.
In Serious Interpretation-Drama, students performed works with topics that ranged from clergy abuse of children to the heartbreak of a couple breaking up to a young girl dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome amidst family issues. Many hours of repitition and fine-tuning go into their performances, and they indeed are performances.
Extemporaneous Speaking is entirely different, with entrants given topics on the day of the event and then only 30 minutes to prepare their presentations. The topics Friday dealt with U.S. foreign policy, U.S-Israel relations, gun control, the federal budget deficit and immigration policy. The students spoke for seven minutes without notes; it wasn’t as smooth as Serious Interpretation-Drama, in which students rehearse and prepare their presentation during the entire speech season. But it was equally impressive.
Humorous Interpretation is, plain and simple, a riot. It’s stand-up, physical comedy with sound effects, multiple voices (little kids, Freddie Mercury, a drill instructor, teachers, parents, etc.) coming from one mouth, huge laughs and the largest audiences of any speech event. I watched the championship round in this category Friday, held in a small auditorium, and people were sitting in the aisle and on the floor in front of the first row of seats.
The 2A state champion in Humorous Interpretation was Nina Grollman of Moorhead High School, who performed an absolutely hilarious piece titled “Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About a Girl Who is Part T-Rex” by Julia Weiss (Nina is pictured above with Lori Crever of Wells Fargo.) During Nina’s performance (as well as all the other finalists), the crowd laughed and hooted and applauded wildly.
After the Humorous Interpretation championship round, I overhead two teen males discussing their favorite performance. One of the boys said to his buddy, “Dude! She pulled off five different people! With five different voices!”
Oh, and about my question concerning athletes? One of Friday’s state champions is also one of the state’s best track athletes. Eagan junior Emerald Egwim (pictured with Lori Crever) has qualified for state in the 100- and 200-meter events, and on Friday she was awarded her second 2A state speech championship, this one in Serious Interpretation-Prose. Last she won Serious Interpretation-Drama.
Emerald is typical of the students who compete in speech; they are very busy with lots of activities. She also participates in student government, National Honor Society and theater. Oh, she also works as a model.
“In everything that I do, I feel like I try and put in all the effort I can,” she told me. “So I try and allot time for things so that I can get everything done in time. It gets pretty crazy sometimes.”
She said one big reason she enjoys speech is because “it allows me the opportunity to really express myself. Even though I’m telling somebody else’s story, there’s always something in the stories I’m telling that I can find in myself.”
Congratulations to all.
--See a photo gallery from the state speech tournament on the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 605
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,180
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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