Speech team seeking next level

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

They talk to walls — but they’re not crazy. It’s just how they practice. They are the Albert Lea High School speech team.

This year there are two captains, Sarah Estes, 17, and Janet Lawler, 17. They are both seniors and work closely with coach Jim Haney. Haney is qualified for the coaching job as he used to be in speech when he was in high school in Mandan, N.D.

“It’s a lifelong skill,” Haney said. “I was in speech in high school, and I enjoyed it very much.”

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Haney hopes that speech will help students to improve their communication.

“I think speech is helpful,” Estes said. “During presentations for class I’m less nervous.”

Any student can be in speech, and the only goal is to become a better communicator.

“If you have a voice you can be just as good as anyone else,” Haney said. “I don’t expect everyone to be marvelous speakers.”

Haney has coached the team for three years. They are going to the section tournament on Thursday in Northfield.

“It’s been a successful season,” Haney said. “We took second place in New Richland.”

The team as a whole took second place. Albert Lea’s speech team hasn’t placed in a competition in many years. After sections the team could move on to the state tournament. They will be competing against other top teams in the area.

Haney said it is a tough section. “But you have to fight with the best.”

Students pick their monologues in December or January and start to practice on their own, and then they practice with their captains and coach to get feedback. The team has already performed at five competitions since February.

“The first few competitions are a learning experience,” Estes said. “It’s just getting the confidence.”

Albert Lea’s speech team has about 25 members, and they hope to add more members each year. Compared to other teams in southern Minnesota Albert Lea’s is pretty small.

“It’s getting better,” Haney said. “We’re trying to build this thing, and we’re always looking for new recruits.”

One of the challenges the team faces is making time to practice.

“The speakers are so busy,” Haney said. “They’ve done a nice job of trying to get in at least once a week.”

The captains said they like to see everyone perform at least once a week to help them improve, but people have to practice on their own as well.

“It’s not such a team sport — you practice on your own,” Estes said. “I don’t think people understand how fun it is.”

Though almost everyone competes individually, the team has plenty of time to hang out together at meets and even have games ready to play. At meets, everyone competes three times in rounds and then there is a long waiting period while judges meet and calculate scores. Then there’s a final round for those who make it.

“The bus rides and the meets are fun,” Estes said.

The other captain, Lawler, said having seniors on the team who’ve been on the team for a few years helps to make the team closer.

“Having a strong senior class makes the whole team included,” Lawler said.

Albert Lea’s team didn’t host a meet this year but next year they will host the Big Nine tournament. Haney will be sad to see the seniors on his team go because they have helped the team so much.

“They’ve done a great job recruiting and making speech fun,” Haney said.

The team is comprised of mostly individual performances. There are 13 categories to choose from. Only two categories, dramatic duo and discussion, have more than one person performing at a time. In dramatic duo two people are performing a script, and in discussion students compete against each other while discussing a set topic.

The other categories are humorous, drama, prose, original oratory, great speeches, informative, storytelling, creative expression, poetry, extemporaneous speaking and extemporaneous reading.

Basically a student will pick a monologue or script to memorize and perform in front of judges and other performers at meets. With discussion and the extemporaneous categories topics and passages are picked right before they have to perform, so those students have to be prepared for anything. Most performances take about eight minutes.

Both Estes and Lawler have had a successful year in speech so far. Estes made it to finals for the first time, and Lawler got second in her category at the Big Nine tournament as well as other achievements. Estes performs a Prose piece from the book “Purge” by Sarah Littman. Lawler’s main focus is her humorous piece from “The Rabbit Report” by Gregory Burns. As well as working with other members of the team they have to practice their own pieces.

“We take people aside and tell them to have their confidence up,” Lawler said. “We use lots of positive reinforcement.”

The captains are also preparing for the section tournaments on Thursday. Estes described how she practices her prose piece.

“This morning I did it in front of the mirror twice and did it in my car,” Estes said. “I’m just doing it over and over again to prepare.”