Off to a strong start

MARSHALL – On Saturday, Marshall High School was crowded with young people reading, studying and talking to walls.

They were preparing for the last day of the 14th Annual Schwan Speech Spectacular.

“I was in storytelling,” said Linnea Bader, MHS junior. “You’re given a book of stories, and you have to come up with a moral and develop character, complete with voices and poses.”

Bader, one of about 1,000 students from Minnesota, South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa, had just finished her last round in the competition. Marshall placed fifth overall in the tournament; Eagan won the tournament.

“I do love stories,” Bader said.

Rick Purrington, MHS speech coach, has been director of the competition since 2007.

According to Purrington, this event at the beginning of competition season is one of the largest in the region and has more rounds than most. The Schwan competition has five preliminary rounds and three elimination rounds.

“Most have three preliminary and one elimination round,” Purrington said.

Why this matters for students on the competition circuit, according to Purrington, is because students will be seen by more judges. If a student advances to the finals, he or she will have been seen by as many as 14 judges and received 14 critique sheets just as the season gets started.

“Each student develops certain skills,” Purrington said, “research, writing, analysis of literature and the ability to take and use criticism. In this activity, feedback is huge.”

Abdul Shahin, MHS sophomore, was preparing for interpretive poetry. In December, he got his assignment, “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien.

“I’m practicing a lot to make it dramatic, acting it out,” Shahin said.

Team mate Chi Chi Nwakama, MHS sophomore, was preparing for a discussion event.

“You get topics to look up online,” Nwakama said. “Right now, we’re doing roads, bridges, infrastructure, technology. You can’t be too pushy, you can’t not talk, but you can’t argue; it’s discussion.”

MHS senior Ashton Stahl was preparing for extemporaneous reading.

“We get a list of 17 stories and read all of them,” Stahl said. “You pick one out of three given on the day of the competition and create an introduction. You read a six-minute selection from it.”

Though there are a bewildering variety of categories, there are certain things judges look for.

Judge Hannah Kruger is a freshman biology/pre-med major at South Dakota State University.

“What you look for if it’s different characters is transitions, vocal changes and how a person presents themself,” Kruger said. “Eye contact is another big one, how they keep contact with the audience.”

Kruger is a veteran of competitions from her high school days in Tyler and was coached by Purrington to be a judge this year.

“I love it,” Kruger said. “I love being a judge.”

The importance of speech as a discipline, according to Purrington, is that it teaches students how to compel an audience to listen.

And though it will certainly be important in whatever their chosen careers are, for the competitors the reward is in the here and now.

“Rather than studying for speech, speech is a study in itself,” Bader said.

Purrington said that because of weather, the Spectacular was the first tournament of the season for most of the MHS competitors. He said that Talitha Black and Tom Wyatt-Yerka were varsity finalists, and he was proud of them, adding that they were examples of resilience and perseverance.

“They have continued to learn and grow every year and now, they are ready to emerge as a couple of our most successful team leaders,”?Purrington said.