by LAURA HAYES
At first, Cotter senior Zoey Aune joined joined the speech team for one reason — to get better at public speaking. Aune said that she would get nervous when she spoke in front of people — so nervous that her teachers told her parents that they were worried that she had a form of speech anxiety.
Now, four years later, Aune said that she’s “100 percent” more comfortable talking in front of people. Recently, Aune was one of six Cotter students to compete at a National Speech and Debate qualifying event in Northbrook, Ill., in November. “Speech really helped me to become comfortable and communicate effectively with people,” she said. “You meet so many interesting people [through speech].”
In recent years, Cotter’s speech team has undergone a transformation. When co-coaches Amy French and Deb Beckman first joined the team four years ago, there were only 11 students participating. Now, there are around 86 students on Cotter’s team, which includes students from seventh through 12th grade and divided onto a varsity and junior varsity team. Amy said that it went from a team that never placed to a team that would win and send students onto statewide and even national competitions across the United States.
“We’ve built it into a winning program, but the focus is teaching students speaking and life skills that they can take forward,” Amy explained. She participated in speech when she was in high school, and when her triplet sons — David, Jacob, and Noah — were in junior high school, she encouraged them to join the team, wanting them to have a similar positive experience.
The season officially starts in January. Leading up to a competition, students work with coaches to prepare for their event — writing a speech that they will perform, memorizing the speech, and working on blocking and delivery of the speech. In some categories, such as extemporaneous speaking, students are given the topic the day of the competition and students are given 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech. Students typically compete in three rounds — sometimes four where the top eight in an event are judged in a final round
Although David, Jacob, and Noah first got involved at their mother’s insistence, the three continued to participate on the team throughout high school realizing that they enjoyed it. Last year, Noah went on to compete at the National Catholic Forensic League Tournament in Sacramento, Calif., in prose, where he performed a short story entitled “Batman Bandaids.”
“Every time he would fall, he would get a Batman bandaid,” Noah explained. Later, the boy’s mother dies, and Noah said that he doesn’t realize that he’s at her funeral. “When he sees his dad crying, he asks if he wants a Batman bandaid. At the end, he says, ‘Nothing can fix it. Not even a Batman bandaid.’”
The competition in Sacramento was difficult, he said. The competition mixed humorous and serious pieces together, which Noah said made it difficult. While he didn’t place, he scored in the upper-half of the competition. “You need to practice a lot before the season — almost a month before the season to be good,” he advised. “If you don’t practice until the season starts … you’re not going to be able to be polished.”
Anne said that it was eye-opening to compete at a national qualifying event. “You can feel good when you’re here at your own meets, but when you go to something like that it’s, wow,” she said. “It makes you feel like you can do 20-times better at home because of what you’re around.”
David said that Northbrook was the top national qualifying competition in the country. “The top speakers were there,” he said.
“I saw a lot of people from nationals at that meet,” Noah added.
Steve Hadaway, a senior who competes in extemporaneous speaking, said that he enjoyed competing against more people in his event. I compete against around three people here, but competed against around 60 people there, he explained.
The students said that they learned a lot by participating in speech — how to write quickly and effectively for writing-based classes like English or religion and with preparing and presenting their senior capstone project. “That will help a lot because we have experience talking in front of people and writing speeches,” David said.
“It’s helped me be able to say what I’m thinking,” Hadaway said.
Amy said that she’s confident that the team will have a good season. “We have a strong team coming back. I think we’ll have a lot of success,” she said.