Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Going the distance

Speech not for weak, faint-hearted.

Loads of energy. Mucho confidence and organization. A superb attitude and. . . don’t forget your tie.

Mimicking a chameleon is helpful in adapting to a surplus of situations in the heat of competition.

“You need a poker face,” said junior Cody Cooper. “And even though you’re scared to death, you have to look as confident as possible.”

Welcome to Gothenburg High School speech, an activity that takes a special breed of student.

Dedication. Mental strength. Control of emotions. Focus and, oh yes, a willingness to accept criticism.

And, when a speech goes badly, overcoming disappointment before the next round.

Senior Cale Moore talked about a persuasive competition when he forgot copies of his speech for judges.

He was disqualified.

“I had to push that to the back of my mind and focus on being funny and happy for my entertainment speech,” Moore said.

The season begins with a meet before Christmas and competition nearly every Saturday through the last weekend in March.

Meets are grueling as students board buses in the dark to reach destinations as far away as Grand Island. They often return home in the dark.

Once there, they carry around files of current event clippings for extemporaneous speaking, large and clumsy visual aides for other events and chairs and tables for duets.

During the week, the 48 students competing this year must find time to practice with coaches.

Senior Mackenzie Brand said she practically eats, breathes and sleeps speech.

In addition to practicing and competing on Saturdays, Brand often spends Sundays tweaking her speeches.

On the bus ride home, students do what they call PMOBBA, or Post-Meet on Bus for Ballot Analysis, which means looking over judges’ comments.

More often than not, students must venture outside their comfort zones.

Like sophomore competitor Kennedy Wahlgren who sings phrases of the 1970s hit “Short People” while competing in poetry.

Brand cavorts about the room during her poetry performance.

“Everyone else is talking about depression and alcohol while I’m dancing,” she said.

Another challenge is keeping speeches fresh.

Senior Jeramie VanAcker said there’s a tendency, especially midway through the season, to go on autopilot as students continue to give the same speeches.

“You have to keep it fresh every week,” VanAcker said.

Moore noted that coach Kerri Dudley suggested that he practice with a British accent.

“I was completely devoid of energy and that helped,” he said.

Through speech, students said they also learn to expect the unexpected.

For example, some judges appear to dislike a speech during a performance but later score it high.

Jessica Schmidt, a sophomore, said she’s learned to “roll with what is thrown at me.”

Junior Maddy Costello said she’s learned how to accept a judge’s score on a given day. Junior Charlie Grabbing Bear said he’s been taught humility.

Sophomore Carlin Daharsh added that each Swede is part of the team and that it takes every person to “get where we are.”

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