A competition not to be missed

More than 900 students take part in annual Marshall Speech Spectacular

Photo by Jenny Kirk Kaitlyn Matzner, Allie Kock, Madison Schumacher and Alexa Amundson — paused for a quick photo. The competitors had gathered together and talked amongst themselves after the fourth round of competition at the Marshall Speech Spectacular

MARSHALL — They come for the fierce competition, the unique camaraderie and the valuable feedback, students and coaches said at the 18th annual Marshall Speech Spectacular on Saturday.

After three rounds of competition on Friday, more than 900 high school students continued with the fourth preliminary round on Saturday morning at both Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University.

“Unlike a lot of people, I really like how much chaos is happening,” MHS speech competitor Alexa Amundson said. “It creates a little bit of anxiety, but it helps me deliver my speech. I like the competitive level about (the Speech Spectacular). You get to see a lot of speeches that are really good and you can learn from those.”

Amundson, a senior captain, participates in two of the 14 varsity categories.

“I’m in drama and prose, so getting back and forth — it’s a long walk and your feet get really tired — but it has been a lot of fun. I love doing my prose piece on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It really gets it out to the public, how that disease is and how it affects people. I just want to create awareness for that, like the ice bucket challenge did.”

Amundson led the Marshall Tiger speech team with a third-place finish with her prose piece about a 35-year-old woman with ALS.

“I love performing it,” she said. “I really get into it. It’s great. It’s sad because she dies at the end, but it creates a good moment, too. There’s a moment between the after-life and heaven and she’s like, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ You realize that you shouldn’t be complaining about little things because there are people with actual issues.”

The Speech Spectacular also features a novice division, where first-year students or competitors in a new category battle it out. The Tigers had four students make novice finals. Lexi Schnaser earned first-place honors in original oratory, while Juan Salazar was fourth in storytelling, Ashtyn Eben was fifth in informative and Mikayla Chesley was sixth in prose.

“The kids did well,” head speech coach Rick Purrington said.

Marshall finished 10th as a team out of the 33 competing from four different states. Eagan was first, followed by Moorhead and Lakeville North.

“I like that we get to see some of the best competition when we come to this wonderful town,” said Tim Sheaff, who coaches the Dowling High School team from Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s two days of competition and the kids get to compete against other places than we normally do. We enjoy coming here.”

Sheaff said attending the Speech Spectacular has become a tradition for DHS despite the 5 ½ hour drive. The only disappointment he has is that they missed the very first year.

“We didn’t know the tournament existed,” he said. “But we’ve been to all of them since the second year. So for 17 years, on this weekend in January, we get a busload of kids from Des Moines and we bring them to Marshall, Minnesota.”

Sheaff, who is also on the National Speech and Debate Association Executive Council, added that they’ve brought as many as 20 kids and have few as one or two.

“This year, we brought nine kids,” Sheaff said. “Sometimes it falls on the wrong weekend and there are other activities, so we only bring a few. But we’ve always come. We wouldn’t miss it.”

Besides the competition, Sheaff said he appreciates the welcoming and supportive atmosphere.

“The people who seem to support Marshall speech and debate, and probably MHS as a whole, it just seems like the community does whatever is necessary to make these kinds of things possible,” he said.

Purrington was quick to praise his staff of assistant coaches, parents and other volunteers as well as tabulators from various schools.

“The assistant coaches here make everything run smoothly,” he said. “Our parents also decided to tackle a pasta supper (on Friday) and did a great job with that. We had that catered in the past, but they stepped up and did that by themselves. They fed a lot of kids, coaches and judges, so that was really nice.”

The parents of MHS speech members pitched in to provide meals at four different time frames. Other volunteers also helped, including some at SMSU.

“There’s just a lot of people who do a lot of work,” Purrington said. “We have 30 rooms over at SMSU that we use. People there have been really helpful in getting all that coordinated.”

More than 150 judges are needed for the tournament. In addition to ranking performances, the judges also provide feedback for the competitors.

“We get a lot of critiques at the Speech Spectacular,” Amundson said. “That’s my favorite part. I love that I get a lot of critiques because it always means I can get better then. So I’d rather have someone who is always writing, rather than getting a blank sheet of paper when I leave.”

MHS junior Ignacio Larios agreed.

“All the judges are so qualified and they give you some really good comments,” he said.

Larios competes individually in humorous and in duo with Daniel VanKeulen.

“It’s always fun to be here,” Larios said. “You learn so much from everyone. You feel the intensity in the round, so it’s fun.”

Along with the competition, Larios said he likes the camaraderie involved in speech.

“It’s nice to know all these people who come back,” he said. “It’s like ‘Hey, how you doing? Are you double entered this year?’ I also like the competitiveness and how you see yourself improving more and more every competition. Speech isn’t easy. It takes a lot of personal time. But when you see your work reflect, it’s a good feeling.”

Sickness added a challenging twist for the first time in tournament history.

“We had a large number of students get sick (Friday),” Purrington said. “They competed for a little bit and then they got sick — flu sick. And they were kids from a variety of schools, so that was a unique situation that hasn’t happened before.”

For those who didn’t get sick, it seemed to be primarily a good experience. Holy Redeemer School eighth-grader Holly Netzley is in her second year of speech.

“It’s going pretty well,” Netzley said. “The rounds are a lot of fun. This is my first competition with the Marshall High School team and everyone has been so nice. They’re really friendly.”

Netzley competed in the extemporaneous reading category.

“This year, it’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’ by Ray Bradbury,” she said. “What you do is go to the draw room and draw three different excerpts from the book and then you choose which one you want to do and you have half an hour to stand in front of a wall and prepare your speech for the judge.”

Netzley said students have to have an introduction and cannot mix up pages.

“You can’t skip anything,” Netzley said. “You have to say all the words. It’s a little difficult at first, but you get the hang of it.”

Taylor Jemtrud, a 13-year-old from Mound-Westonka, competed in storytelling.

“I love acting out the characters with the different accent and stuff,” she said.

Jemtrud said the Speech Spectacular was a lot bigger tournament than the first one she and her teammates attended, though she didn’t appear to be intimidated.

“This is huge,” Jemtrud said. “It’s a very nice school. It’s been a long two days, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Jemtrud noted that she was aware that the tournament was a chance to get noticed and that there were some people who could actually get scholarships. Purrington said Concordia College, a big sponsor of the tournament, was giving away $1,000 scholars to every varsity category winner.

“So they’re giving 15 $1,000 scholarships to Concordia,” Purrington said. “There are 14 categories, plus an extra (person) for duo. They also brought a lot of judges here, as did South Dakota State University.”

Students in certain events had the opportunity to qualify for nationals since the Speech Spectacular is a bid tournament. The National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC) is in May in Denver, Colorado.

“Students can qualify for that tournament if they meet a particular threshold at this tournament, so that’s another thing that makes it special for them,” Purrington said.

Four MHS students broke to varsity semifinals, which is the top 12. Mariana Oaxaca advanced in poetry, Kaitlyn Matzner in extemp reading and Savannah Boedigheimer in informative. Boedigheimer and Stephen Zimmer also broke to the semifinals in duo.

Allie Kock (discussion), Elise Meseck (prose) and Chiemaka Nwakama (storytelling) also made semifinals in the novice division.

Nine students broke to the varsity quarterfinals, which is the top 24 in a category. Maris Oaxaca and Allie Lamote advanced in drama. Lamote also made it to the quarterfinals in program oral interpretation. Elsa Black made the cut in both original oratory and storytelling. Rhyanna Juutilainen and Nick Dunn also made quarterfinals in storytelling.

Daniel VanKeulen broke to the quarterfinals in creative expression, as did Alexa Doerr (extemp expression), Noah Dunn (great speeches) and Jenna Zeug (informative).