You’re reaching down deep inside of you to give everything you have for your team and, more important, for yourself. You know the time is short and the sweat cascades from your forehead in your effort to help score points to help your team be successful and – just maybe – earn a trip to state.
Sounds like a sport, right? Are we talking about basketball? Volleyball? Football?
Nope – it’s speech. And Wayne High’s speech team is working hard on a potential trip to the state meet in Kearney this March.
There are more than 30 Wayne High students who put in a lot of hours every week researching, writing and memorizing their work, all for an opportunity to stand before a judge and deliver 8-10 minutes of their best work on everything from poetry to a quickly-researched extemporaneous speech on Vladmir Putin.
Sounds easy, right?
“This is closer to a sport than some people might realize,” said Dwaine Spieker, the Wayne High speech coach for the last 17 years. “We might not put on uniforms and go run around the gym, but you do have to have lung capacity and use your body to your advantage like you would in a sport like basketball.”
The speech team has some amazingly creative young men and women who compete in at least one of nine events, including scripted events like serious prose, humorous prose, poetry, duet acting and oral interpretation of drama. There are also events like informative speaking, persuasive speaking, entertainment speaking and extemporaneous speaking, all of which require competitors to research and write their own speeches.
Spieker said the work the Wayne High students is far and above the work he remembered putting into his speeches when he went to school at Elgin Pope John many years ago.
“We just showed up and gave our speech,” he remembered. “This is much bigger here than anything I did as a kid.”
Practice generally starts after school with competitors gathering in the school library to discuss most recent performances, judges’ interpretations of their work and what changes they need to make to improve their speeches. Empty classrooms are filled with students working on their introductions and working with Spieker to fine-tune their work before the next competition.
For Megan Keiser, there is a lot for her to work on, which comes when you’re competing in three different events – humorous prose, duet acting and as part of one of the OID (oral interpretation of drama) entries.
The junior admits that speaking in public isn’t something she’s normally comfortable with, but being part of a speech team has helped her overcome that.
“This kind of got me out of my comfort zone and I really found out last year how much I loved it,” she said. “It’s pretty scary when you get up there to give your speech, but it’s really a lot of fun.”
She and her OID teammates are flipping the script on a classic 80’s movie. In their interpretation, gender roles are reversed where the girls play the roles of the jock, the outcast and the nerd, while the boys act out as the diva and the basket case who rarely speaks.
“We have to sum it up in 15 minutes, which is very hard,” Keiser said. “We were going to do (another movie), but decided on this instead and thought it would be funny to do a gender switch.”
Keiser said they cut some of the questionable material, such as stealing marijuana, and were able to trim a 90-page script down to four pages.
Junior Nate Burrows is part of the OID team, and he had to look at the character he is playing – the basket case – and try to interpret the role in a unique way.
“I try to base my character somewhat off the movie and try to find my own perspective on it,” he said. “There’s one part where I’ll snap and say something out of this world, and then act like I never said it.”
Burrows qualified for state as a freshman and just missed out on state as a sophomore, but loves the competitive aspect of being on the speech team.
“We definitely have a lot of fun on Mr. Spieker helps bring out the best in us,” he said. “It was fun my first two years learning from the upperclassmen, and now that I’m in a position where I’m the one with experience and people are asking me questions, it’s fun but it’s also kind of weird.”
Speeches can touch on a wide variety of emotions, and junior Jaci Torres competes in two events that allow her to really get at the heart of her audience.
She competes in serious prose and poetry, and she wants people to really feel the emotion in her speeches.
“I just want people to really feel something when they hear my voice,” she said. “I want them to be drawn from what I see.”
In her serious prose entry, she speaks from the perspective of a mother who has just discovered her child has been abused. She found the script after researching speeches on YouTube and has been able to earn some medals for the speech.
“I have to be really sad and angry and tie those emotions together and just try to tear everybody’s hearts out,” she said.
With her poetry, she speaks about immigrants trying to achieve the American dream, which is something she can draw on from personal experience.
“I was inspired by my parents because they came here so we could have a better life, and I want to show the pain that immigrants go through to achieve that,” she said. “They sacrificed a lot to achieve the American dream, and not a lot of people know that.”
Spieker said that most of the top performers on Wayne High’s speech team will spend up to 12 hours a week preparing their entries for competition. The 32 kids on the Wayne High team compete in 44 different entries, spread out among the nine different events.
At a speech competition, each entry competes in two rounds, and the top 6-8 scoring entries compete a third time in the finals, with a different judge scoring each round. First place and a top score of 50 is the goal, and the team with the most points at the end of the day wins the tournament.
For some, that means giving the same speech up to three times – and if you’re in more than one event, that can make for a very long day.
“Megan Keiser is in three events,” Spieker said. “She made the finals in all three and gave nine speeches in one day at a meet recently, and she was just exhausted by the end of the day.”
Keiser said she’ll listen to “Eye of the Tiger” and a bunch of Disney “princess” songs to get her mentally prepared. Spieker added that he’s often thought about some pre-tournament wind sprints.
“I keep joking with the kids that we should run laps before a meet just to wake everybody up and get the blood pumping,” he said.
The Wayne High speech team will have a rare Saturday off this coming weekend, and as has become custom with the team, they will host a “home show” where family, friends and the public can see their work with a series of performances at Wayne High School, starting at 8:30 a.m.
Spieker said that the team will be introduced and an OID performance will be given in the Lecture Hall. After that, a series of individual speeches will be given in several rooms at the school between 9:15-10:45 a.m. After that, duet performances will be given in the band room and lecture hall, and the day will close with a second OID performance and a potluck lunch for team members, parents, families and volunteers in the commons area.
“The admission is free and we encourage everybody to come and enjoy these fine young public speakers who are representing Wayne High,” Spieker said.
And, if you’re lucky – you might even see them sweat a little.