Taking their voices to state

MARSHALL – Marshall High School senior Jeff Paskach is one of very few students in Minnesota speech history to qualify for the State Speech Tournament four times. As he joins eight of his speech teammates who also qualified for the 2013 State Class AA Speech Tournament today at Blaine High School, Paskach has the chance to bring home his third state medal.

“Jeff is a four-time state qualifier, two times in humorous and two times in creative expression,” MHS head speech coach Rick Purrington said. “He medaled at state his eighth-grade year, competing for Lakeview in Class A and his freshman year in humorous. Jeff has the opportunity to earn a third state medal this year and put himself among elite company in state tournament history.”

Senior captains Bo Erickson and Abby Surprenant will be competing at the state event for the third time. Erickson, who was a state medalist in drama last year, also qualified in discussion as a freshman.

“He’s qualified for state three times, in three different categories,” Purrington said. “Bo is an incredibly versatile speaker.”

Erickson said he competed in discussion his freshman year, qualified for state that season and then competed in discussion and drama. His junior year, Erickson competed in drama and original oratory.

“I went to state in drama my junior year,” Erickson said. “But I fell in love with original oratory. My senior year, I did oratory and prose. But you can only take one speech to sections. Then, you have to get in the top three to advance to state. It’s always a little gamble which one to take.”

Partway through the season, Erickson decided to switch prose pieces, opting to craft his speech from Michael Ian Black’s “You’re Not Doing it Right.”

“It’s his autobiography, and he’s a comedian, so it’s super hilarious,” Erickson said. “He talks about his normal life, about the struggles of being married, normal things every couple goes through.”

The prose piece includes a part where Erickson has to be “super upset” about his wife setting the alarm 10 minutes fast and another when he needs to wake up in the early-morning hours with his child. His wife also accuses him of not being home enough.

“It’s really fresh and unique,” Erickson said. “I really like it. I read the book last year in my free time and thought ‘wow, this may be a great speech idea.’ So I cut it into an eight-minute form and showed it to Mr. Purrington, and he said it would work. I broke (to finals) the first week and from then on.”

Erickson’s goal is to break to the championship round again this season, but he knows it will be a tough challenge. He’s been up against all the top competitors before.

“We’ve all beaten each other, so it depends on how it comes down,” he said. “Prose is one of the most competitive categories this year, as far as who has qualified for the national tournament already. But I’m really excited to compete.”

Most prose pieces tend to be serious, Erickson said, so being able to crack a lot of jokes may help him stay less nervous or tense than other competitors.

“It’s a good time,” he said. “I’ve been told my speech is so real, that everyone can relate to it, so I’m feeling very confident. I’m really excited for the other eight kids who qualified, too. Mr. Purrington said that this is certainly a year we could all make the finals. It’s a good mix, with younger kids and some of us who have been here for awhile.”

Looking to improve on her second-place finish in original oratory last year, Surprenant is hoping to take home a championship medal in the category for MHS.

“Abby also qualified for state in original oratory as a freshman, so she, too, is a three-time state qualifier,” Purrington said.

Junior Jessica Oaxaca and senior duo competitors Aletta Arndt and Seth McGonigle are returning to state for the second straight year.

“Aletta medaled in prose, and Seth competed last year for Montevideo and was the Class A state runner up in prose,” Purrington said.

This season marks the first time that Arndt and McGonigle have competed together in duo but having been to state before can be an advantage, McGonigle said.

“It’s still pretty stressful being there, but I kind of know what to expect now. I know the ins and outs and what it takes to break into finals. I think we all have a really good chance to break. That’s really exciting.”

The duo piece is about a priest who falls in love with a girl, McGonigle said.

“It challenges his vows,” McGonigle said. “It’s really challenging for me to be a priest because it’s such a polar shift from my life. It’s really hard to portray the emotions I’m supposed to be feeling for Aletta.”

During competition, McGonigle said he and Arndt are not allowed to touch or even look at each other.

“We have to feed off each other,” he said. “We’ve worked all season on it, and I’m really excited to be returning to state. I actually tied to first last year and got second, so I’m hoping to get first this year.”

Seniors Annalise Wasberg (drama) and Melissa Stassen (prose) are competing at state for the first time, as is the team’s youngest competitor, sophomore Malak Shahin (great speeches).

“It was nice to see Malak emerge and take first,” Purrington said. “She is driven and smart, which results in her learning quickly. To qualify for state is very hard, and for a sophomore to do it is quite impressive. Malak put in a lot of work these last few weeks in preparation for sections. She knew she had a shot, and she did everything she could to get herself ready.”

Round I for the Class AA competitors begins at 10:15 a.m. today, followed by Round II at 11:45 a.m., Round III at 1:15 p.m. and the Championship Round at 3:30 p.m. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Class A participants have a similar schedule Saturday.