First expressions

MARSHALL – The Schwan Speech Spectacular is taking over Marshall High School (and spilling over across the street to Southwest Minnesota State University) today and Saturday.

Thirty-four schools from five states are attending the two-day speech tournament, including two teams from Colorado and two teams from Kansas. About 800 participants will compete and about 160 judges have been hired.

“We are using every classroom, office and even some closets at the high school for competition space,” said MHS speech coach Rick Purrington. “We are also using 26 classrooms at SMSU – more than 120 rooms are needed for just for one round of competition. We use two shuttle buses to transport students to and from the college.”

Purrington is assisted by three senior captains: Danny West, Jessica Oaxaca and Tom Wyatt-Yerka.

“We do administrative work for Mr. Purrington,” said West, “like getting packets ready for all the members.”

The packets are folders containing basic information for the speech team members, he said.

The captains are also there to help “younger or anyone who wants extra practice,” West said.

Purrington also is helped by volunteers. More than 100 MHS speech parents feed almost 1,000 people four meals over the weekend – today’s lunch, today’s supper, Saturday breakfast and Saturday lunch.

Purrington said the hospitality the volunteers provide is one reason why the tournament is so popular.

“The parents do a great job,” he said.

Another factor in why the tournament is attractive is because of the high level of competition and the opportunity to improve by having multiple rounds of competition.

“The competition is excellent,” Purrington said. “The teams are really good and look forward to seeing certain teams to compete against.”

The Schwan Speech Spectacular offers two days of competition instead of the usual one.

“We offer more rounds – they get more bang for their buck,” he said. “We are the only one in the state of Minnesota that does that.”

The tournament has five rounds of preliminary competition followed by elimination rounds – quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

In addition, the tournament has two divisions of competition – varsity and novice. Having a novice division is “very attractive to schools,” he said. “It’s still very good competition, but the youngest participants can learn this activity in a less overwhelming environment.”

Purrington said the tournament is a community event – sponsored not just by Schwan but also supported in some way by 31 other Marshall businesses or institutions, including Avera Marshall, SMSU and US Bank.

West said he has been in speech all four years.

“My dad wanted me to join and then one of my friends convinced me to do it,” he said. “Thankfully I did because I love it.”

West said “it’s fun to get a piece ready and then see the reactions to all the work you’ve done. I like to do humorous speeches and get a lot of joy from seeing the reactions.”

Oaxaca said she joined the speech team as a freshman because her sister, Brenda, was a senior and wanted an activity they could be in together.

Both West and Oaxaca said participating in speech has increased their self-confidence.

“It definitely helps your confidence and professionalism,” Oaxaca said. “You have to be organized and be prepared.”

Oaxaca said some of the elements in speech can be useful for job interviews.

“You have to present yourself as memorable and likable – you have to stick out,” she said.

Oaxaca has excelled at speech. Last year, she made it to the state championship.

“Speech is a team activity, but it’s also an individual activity because you work to get better – that’s what I like about it,” she said.

Last year’s sweepstakes champion was Moorhead High School, followed by Eagan High School. Marshall placed fifth out of 31 teams.