The Spectacular 6

MARSHALL – Marshall High School speech coach Rick Purrington and senior captains Abby Surprenant, Nick Evans and Bo Erickson had a sneaking suspicion this year’s speech team had a great deal of potential. After a record-high number of MHS students made finals at the prestigious Schwan’s Speech Spectacular tournament Saturday, it’s safe to say they were right.

“We did awesome,” Purrington said. “Competitively, this is the best we’ve ever done. We’ve never had six in finals. I can’t remember ever having more than three. Last year, we had two.”

Placing in the top six at a diverse, high-caliber tournament like the Speech Spectacular is no easy feat, Purrington said, especially considering there were 30 different teams from a five-state area and nearly 800 competitors in attendance. But seniors Seth McGonigle (Prose), Bo Erickson (Oratory), Abby Surprenant (Oratory), Daniel Merna (Discussion), junior Jessica Oaxaca (Extemporaneous Reading) and sophomore Malak Shahin (Great Speeches) succeeded.

“We knew we had a lot of seniors this year and they have a lot of experience,” Purrington said. “We’re pretty excited about how they’ve done. And they work really hard, too. It isn’t as if they’re able to slide in because they’re talented. They work really hard. It’s fun.”

With her third-place award, Oaxaca was top finisher for MHS. She was also among a record-high number of MHS competitors (14) to break into the semifinals this year.

“I was really surprised to make finals, but I was really excited,” she said. “This is my first year making it to finals here.”

After five preliminary rounds Friday and early Saturday, Oaxaca broke to the quarterfinals, the semifinals and eventually the finals for a total of eight intense rounds.

“I read ‘The Ravine’ by Ray Bradbury in the final round,” Oaxaca said. “You could definitely feel all the talent in the room. It was really nerve-wracking, but I think it went well. I tried to stay energized because it’s never fun watching someone who is just sitting up there reading.”

One of Oaxaca’s goals for this season is to return to the Minnesota State Speech Tournament and do better than she did last year.

“It was not the best experience, but that’s my motivation for going back and doing way better,” she said.

McGonigle, who is also hoping to improve on his second-place finish at state last year, took fifth in prose at the Speech Spectacular.

“It was a good feeling,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it.”

This season, McGonigle is performing a piece called “Killing Babies.”

“It’s about a recovery drug addict janitor who works at an abortion clinic and he gets sick of the protesters outside so he shoots them,” McGonigle said. “It’s really intense.”

Although he was somewhat surprised about making finals Saturday, McGonigle has been successful so far this season, having taken third at Sioux Falls, S.D., third at Chanhassen and breaking into merit finals at Omaha, Neb. While competing with Aletta Arndt, McGonigle also made quarterfinals Saturday in Duo.

“I already qualified for the (National Individual Events Tournament) Tournament of Champions in San Antonio in May,” he said. “It’s my first time qualifying for that. I’m really excited for it.”

Purrington pointed out that students can qualify for nationals – in the categories of Drama, Duo, Oratory and Humorous – in two different ways. They can either get two bids at special tournaments like the Speech Spectacular, he said, or they can qualify at-large by getting three placings under 10 at any tournament. Since it’s their home tournament, MHS students are not eligible to get a bid just for advancing to quarterfinals like students from other teams are. Last year, MHS took eight students to nationals in California.

Merna said he had never made it to the final round at the Speech Spectacular before this season but was proud of his and his team’s efforts.

“It’s our best ever,” he said. “I’m happy to see my teammates succeed along with me. I was happy to know the hard work paid off.”

Having made the semifinals the past two years, Merna was glad to have placed fourth his senior year.

“I think experience helps,” Merna said. “It gets a little easier to do every year.”

In the championship round of Discussion, finalists debated ballot initiative reform, Merna said.

“It wasn’t my best round, but it was tough competition,” he said. “There were a lot of really smart kids there who knew what they were talking about. The round was a little more civilized than the average one. It was fun.”

The most challenging part of Discussion, Merna said, was gaining a consensus in the group.

“This year’s topic is politics, so to solve whatever task you have, you might have to put past your political views and do what would be most beneficial for the group,” Merna said. “So I’d say working past personal biases to come to a group consensus is the toughest part.”

In Oratory, Erickson finished fourth, followed by Surprenant, who took fifth. Shahin was sixth in Great Speeches.

A total of 14 MHS entrants made semifinals and 28 made quarterfinals in the varsity competition. No Tiger participants qualified for finals in any of the six novice division categories, though Blythe Bell did advance to the first-ever semifinals in Novice Humorous.

“This is a very special tournament, not just because of the number of competitive opportunities, but because of the learning opportunities you get by watching a series of great speakers,” Purrington said to competitors at the award ceremony. “It’s a fun variety of events.”

From the “generous” business sponsors, to the community volunteers, to the “brilliant” tabulators and the judges, Purrington offered his thanks.

“It’s a community-wide event,” he said. “We also thank the school system. They show their support by allowing us to use the facility and letting out school at 11:15 a.m. on Friday. They recognize this activity as an educational one. Together with everyone’s contributions we’re able to provide you with a special and unique experience.”

Using the one-clap applause system for all except the category champion, the top 24 competitors in each category were quickly recognized and given awards by Heather Purrington, Carol Purrington and Ariel Smith on stage. Quarterfinalists received ribbons, while semifinalists took home medals. Finalists earned trophies. In the team competition, Eagan earned the sweepstakes award, while Fairmont was recognized for being the “highest achieving” Class A school.

“The award ceremony is a neat thing,” Rick Purrington said. “It has its own little culture, how we do things. We recognize a lot of kids.”

Perhaps the best awards came afterwards, in the form of judges’ critiques, however. With one judge in each of a competitor’s five preliminary rounds, two judges in the quarterfinals and semifinals and three in the championship round, a student could ultimately receive 12 different critiques.

“The critiques are one of the best parts of this tournament,” Purrington said. “The students have so many round and they get so many judges. The judges that are here are excellent judges, too, so they end up with some really good comments from experts.”

About 160 judges are needed for the event. While every participating schools bring judges along, a growing number of additional judges are from the Marshall area. Purrington said there were about 50 from the Marshall area.

“I always believe this is a community event, so anytime we can bring people in from the community and expose them to speech, it’s a good thing,” he said.