A team effort

Minneota speech coach Gades scores second region-wide award

Photo by Jim Muchlinski Minneota speech coach Kim Gades, right, poses with assistant coach Amanda Engels recently. Gades was named the region’s speech coach of the year for 2019. She had also won the award in 2017.

MINNEOTA — Kim Gades, high school speech coach for the Minneota School District, was surprised by her peers this spring for the second time in three years.

Speech coaches from about 20 high schools named her the region’s speech coach of the year for 2019. She won the award for the first time in 2017 after taking over the speech coach role in 2013 when she was new to Minneota’s faculty.

Gades’ first six years of leading the speech program have been a partnership with assistant coach Amanda Engels, who helped to launch speech as a Minneota High School activity in 2011 since her children were interested in competing at speech tournaments.

“They’re definitely not ‘me awards,'” Gades said. “Our team would never be having as much success without Amanda. The students deserve the most credit of all because of their hard work and how much they’ve taken interest in the program.”

She applies personal experience to her role as a speech coach. It began when she enjoyed being a high school competitor in Adrian.

Her speech coach, Joyce McCarthy, stills coaches the Adrian team and competes at many of the same regional tournaments.

“I enjoyed being part of a speech program, and found that it helped me in many ways when I pursued my college degree and then began teaching,” Gades said. “It’s rewarding to help teenagers as they work toward the same kind of goals.”

When she joined Minneota’s faculty as a fifth and sixth grade teacher, she was asked to coach speech by retired Minneota principal Harlan Ulrich.

One reason she decided to accept his offer was the chance to get involved in school life beyond her own classroom. Another factor was the opportunity, as an upper elementary level teacher, to encourage students to look into becoming team members.

She now teaches first grade, but she’s found that the program has grown enough so that other teachers in higher grade levels as well as current speech team members help with drumming up interest.

“I’ve reached the point that some of the students I taught in fifth and sixth grade are graduating from speech,” Gades said. “The most rewarding part is seeing how much they develop their skills. When I think back to when I first saw them speak as part of a class assignment, I’m amazed by the difference.”

She and Engels said that successful coaching involves giving students the clearest, most helpful feedback possible. While it’s important to be constructive overall, the process also involves pointing out when a particular aspect of a speech recital doesn’t resonate, when it needs adjustments in order to make a good impression in front of contest judges.

Engels, who competed in the past in high school speech at Minneota, started out as a volunteer when her children strongly encouraged her to help bring back the program.

While attending St. Edward Catholic School; they more than once got off the bus during a stopover at the public school, walked into the main office, and asked the school secretary if a speech coach had been chosen yet. After hearing that it still hadn’t happened, they assured the office staff that their mom would do it.

“They volunteered me that way several times,” Engels said. “A big reason I started helping with speech was my kids, but I’ve stayed with it because of how much the program has developed year by year. It’s helped that we have consistency with the same coach. Kim invests a lot of time and effort.”

Six Minneota students qualified this year as state finalists. They include Brenden Kimpe in extemporaneous speaking, Sean Dilley in informative speaking, Zoe DeBoer in storytelling, Jacob Haen in humorous interpretation, and the team of Natalie Bot and Tara Thooft in duo performance.

Kimpe, currently a junior, double entered this spring in extemporaneous speaking and duo. Haen was his partner in the duo category.

He began his high school speech participation in the extemporaneous reading category before switching to the even less predictable speaking event.

Participants are given a choice of topics for which to prepare a half hour speech. It’s possible that they’ll draw one that’s perfect for some of the research they’ve compiled.

It’s also possible, however, that none of the choices will be ideal for what they have on file. In those instances, extemporaneous speakers have to put together a coherent, well-supported presentation based on the most applicable background information they possess.

“Extemp speaking keeps me on my toes,” Kimpe said. “There isn’t a lot of time to think about it and to work out every detail. We have to prepare ahead of time by being well-rounded.”

Kimpe and Dilley both competed at the state level this spring for the third time. They found that a first appearance at state involves nervousness that doesn’t materialize again when a competitor comes back with state level experience.

Dilley has chosen a group of related topics for his informative speaking projects. In the course of his speech career, he’s focused on food allergies, rodent control, itching related health issues, forensic concerns that relate to entomology, and most recently the issue of genetic information shared on genealogy databases.

He said 21st century computerized data sharing has led to new issues such as health insurance exclusions (if insurers decide to look for personal data that might be usable in the denial of coverage or of a particular claim).

“I try to zero in on topics that are current and that are changing because of science and technology,” Dilley said. “It helps if I can tell judges things that they haven’t heard about or at least give them details that expand on what they already know.”

Both Kimpe and Dilley highly recommend speech as a high school extracurricular activity because of how it can become a foundation for communication skills needed later in life.

“It’s a no-brainer that kids should seriously consider being in speech,” Dilley said. “It’s a great way to learn how to make good impressions. I found that it helps with any class assignment that includes an oral presentation.”

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