The old phrase “start ‘em while they’re young” has proved to pay off in a talented Wayne High speech team that showcased its efforts with its annual Home Show at Wayne High School Saturday morning.
The 29-member team — one of the biggest in Dwaine Spiker’s years as coach — showed off their talents by performing speeches ranging from serious topic such as domestic violence to hilarious presentations about the current political system, using football analogies to create a Sportscenter-like highlight of the 2016 election.
The idea for the Home Show came more than 10 years ago when Spieker was asked by parents about taking photos of their kids’ presentations.
“There really isn’t a chance to do that at a regular speech meet and we don’t host a home meet during the season, so we created this Home Show more as an opportunity to celebrate the performer than the competition,” he said.
Speech has been a competitive event in Nebraska high schools for many years. Teams compete in a speech tournament with speakers having the option of performing in nine different categories. Seven of those divisions — Poetry, Persuasive, Humorous, Serious, Entertainment, Extemporaneous and Informative — require students to research and write their own speeches. There are also two categories — Oral Interpretation of Drama and Duet Acting — where teams of students interpret a piece that has been written by someone else.
At conference and district competition, coaches can only bring two entries to each event, and this year’s Wayne High team is making those decisions very difficult for Spieker and his assistants, Amy Jackson, Kaylee Hathaway and Hannah Smith.
“Thank goodness I have my assistant coaches to help me with those decisions,” Spieker said. “We have eight humorous prose entries that I have to narrow down to two, and informative is another event where we have a lot of people. We have some tough decisions that we’ll have to make the next couple of weeks.”
Figuring out which competition is best for each student can be a challenge, especially if the student has his or her heart set on a particular category.
“A lot of it is their own choices, but sometimes as a coach you can see that they might be better in, say, informative rather than humorous, so it’s a choice that the student and coach work together on,” he said. “Colton Spahr, for example, is a born extemp speaker and he’s tried some other interpretive events; while Jack Osnes is an interpreter all the way through.”
Spieker said that the students who bring the most polished speeches are the ones who will ultimately represent Wayne in the major meets later this month and into March.
“Sometimes, we look at the attitude of the kids and how much they’re willing to improve,” he said. “Some plateau early and others keep looking for those little ways to improve.”
It’s a good bet that a number of those entries will fall to some of the 11 seniors who lead the team. Many of those seniors have been giving speeches long before their high school days, thanks to a junior high speech team that Spieker started five years ago.
The seniors who were part of that first junior high team are now seniors and have had plenty of experience over the years that will serve them well in this winter’s competition, he said.
“They were some of our first kids in the junior high program that we started,” he said. “We started that to begin the work of the program a little earlier so they don’t spend their freshman and sophomore years figuring out what’s going on. They’ve been enthusiastic about speech ever since and it’s really paid off.”
The junior high program has also developed some great young talent for the future, Spieker said.
“This year’s freshman class has been in junior high speech for two years and came in this year as freshmen and have already had a lot of success and won a lot of medals, so they’re ready to move up to varsity before long,” he said.
Sarah Wibben, who competes in Humorous Prose and teams up with classmate and best friend Jaci Torres in Duet Acting, was one of those seniors who got started in the junior high program.
“I wanted to make some new friends and hang out with people in a different activity, and Mr. Spieker encouraged me to ‘come to the dark side’ of speech,” she said.
“Once I did it the first time, I really enjoyed it.”
Meeting kids from other communities and watching some of the other speeches is something Wibben has enjoyed, and she has especially had fun working with Torres on their duet, which — oddly enough — is about two best friends.
“Jaci and I are doing one together and it’s fun to act together and interact on different levels,” she said. “We’re doing a script on two best friends, which fits us perfectly.”
The challenge in duet acting, Wibben said, is making sure both actors memorize their lines and deliver them flawlessly.
“You have to have the script memorized for the first meet or you’ll be disqualified, and it’s tough because if one of you forgets your lines, you’re screwed,” she said.
That’s why it’s not uncommon to see competitors at a meet walking the halls, so focused on going through their lines that they appear to be talking to — well — nobody.
“Yeah, we talk to the walls a lot,” she said, laughing. “We’ll be going through the speech and doing a run-through to make sure we have our lines down, so we’re talking to the walls a lot.”
While most of the seniors came through the junior high program, Colton Spahr is one of the exceptions, having joined the team during his freshman year.
Spahr’s specialty is in the Extemporaneous competition, where students select from three topics, research and write their speech in a short amount of time and then deliver a speech on the topic, requiring them to think fast.
“I think it’s the most exciting event, because I never know what topic I’m going to get, so each of my speeches is different,” he said.
Spahr has built a database of news websites and articles to draw information from, and he keeps up with the current topics in the news to prepare him for writing those quick speeches on the fly.
“I’ve done so many on (President) Trump the last two years,” he said with a laugh. “It’s like a miniature persuasive speech and you just hope you write and deliver your speech better than the others.”
The speech team will have a meet in Wakefield on Friday and another at Wisner-Pilger on Saturday, Feb. 17 before competing in the Mid State Conference meet on Saturday, Feb. 24 at Battle Creek. They’ll finish the season with districts on Monday, March 12 at Columbus Lakeview, and state qualifiers will head to Kearney later in March for a chance to compete among the state’s best.
“I think we can do really well in district and get a bunch of entires to state this year,” he said. “We just missed being district runner-up last year, and I think we have some good kids who can take us to the next level. I have high hopes for this team, and they’re living up to those hopes.”