MARSHALL – On many levels, speech students are among the most courageous, outspoken, articulate and resilient members of society. Such was the case on Friday, as hundreds of those high school students rose above the fear of public speaking to shine at the 13th annual Schwan’s Speech Spectacular in Marshall.
“People are more fearful of public speaking than dying,” Marshall High School senior Bo Erickson said.
Erickson is a team captain for MHS this season, as are Abby Surprenant and Nick Evans.
“It’s the nation’s number one fear,” Surprenant said.
But somehow, countless speech students learn to properly channel that fear and excel in competition.
“It’s not that these guys don’t get nervous, because they do,” MHS head speech coach Rick Purrington said. “But they’ve learned how to use their nerves for energy as opposed to fear.”
MHS junior Anja Baumgarn has her own system for calming her nerves.
“I pray,” she said. “It helps calm me down. It comes with more practice, too. Speech is a good thing to be in. It’ll help you out a lot when you get older, with different jobs. It gives you a lot of skills.”
Baumgarn competes in two categories: extemporaneous reading and informative.
“It went pretty good,” Baumgarn said after the first round of extemporaneous reading. “There are like 17 stories to choose from and you draw three each round and pick one to read. My story was ‘Maniac Magee.'”
The most difficult part, Baumgarn said, is portraying your own interpretation of the story.
“You have to use facial expression and gestures and make sure you speak clear,” she said.
Though she’s been in speech for three years, informative is a new category for Baumgarn this year.
“I think it has potential,” she said. “It’ll get better once I get it memorized and have visuals. It’s on dyslexia. It’s an interesting topic. I learned a lot about it when I was researching it.”
At the Speech Spectacular, students learn to block out distractions, oftentimes while rehearsing their speech against a wall in the middle of a hallway, and adapt to any environment, which may include giving their speech in a stairwell, closet, office or dressing room because of the enormity of the tournament.
“We’re at 776 entries, which is down a little bit from last year, but we were bursting at the seams last year,” Purrington said.
According to Purrington, the tournament requires the use of 26 rooms at Southwest Minnesota State University in addition to 93 rooms at MHS.
“At MHS, only 60 of those are actually classrooms, so we had to invent about 30 more rooms in order to fit everything in. We use every office space, every nook and cranny in the building.”
But the students don’t seem to mind. They appear to thrive wherever they’re directed to go.
“I was really excited and a little nervous,” Bethany Zeug, first-year speech participant for MHS, said about the Speech Spectacular. “I did speech in middle school, and it was just a lot of fun. I don’t get that nervous in the first place. I get more excited than nervous.”
Zeug is in storytelling and humorous categories this season.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she said. “Storytelling was a little rough (first round on Friday), but it wasn’t too bad.”
Zeug explained that competitors draw three stories before each round and then select one to give a speech on.
“You can’t do the same speech at the same tournament,” Zeug said. “So however many rounds there are, that’s how many different speeches you have to do in storytelling.”
Senior Hannah Kruger, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s lone competitor, said the best part and the most challenging part of the Speech Spectacular is the multi-state competition.
“It’s so much fun to be here,” she said. “There are just so many amazing people here, from all different states. It gives you a few pointers here and there.”
Kruger’s first round in drama went well, she said.
“It went really good, but it was a really competitive round,” Kruger said. “It was fun. My piece is about a wife who is verbally abused by her husband. She talks into a tape recorder to calm herself down. She walks into a support group and is trying explain to these people that she’s somewhat abused, but she doesn’t feel like her story is bad enough compared to everybody else’s.”
Many students also gain confidence and are able to speak up and voice their own opinions through participation in speech. MHS sophomore Sung Yoon Jung is new to speech this year but is looking forward to gaining experience as the season goes on. He currently competes in discussion.
“Actually, this was my very first round in speech,” he said. “It was really a learning experience, but I think it was pretty interesting. We were discussing election overload, how people can get really bogged down by election campaigns and stuff.”
Jung said he was able to contribute to the conversation but was a little reserved yet.
“I did contribute a little bit but not too much, as it was my first round,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect in the beginning, but it went OK. I was actually pretty nervous, and I still am.”
Participants competed in four preliminary rounds Friday, followed by the fifth round today. Then, the top 24 competitors in each of the 13 varsity categories will advance to the quarterfinals, with the top 12 of those moving on to the semifinals and the top six advancing to the finals.
“For teams like the ones from Des Moines, Iowa and from Colorado, they like all the rounds possible,” Purrington said. “It makes the trip worth their while. The students get a lot of critiques, which are really valuable at this point in the season.”
In the novice division, which is being offered for the second year, there are no quarterfinals or semifinals, with the exception of humorous.
“In novice, it just goes straight to the top six,” Purrington said. “But this year, we have enough entries in novice humorous to justify having a semifinal.”