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Speech Team: The Value of Commitment and Competition
Deborah Chudzynski, Drama/Theatre Teacher, Speech Team Head Coach and Theatre Director

For the past 31 years, I have offered Speech Team to middle school students at Stanley Clark. As a seventh-grader myself, I gained so much by competing in the Dramatic Interpretation category at the local high school. When I made a judge cry, I realized, right then and there, that I had to work in the theatre. Years later, I felt the desire to share what I learned with others, leading me to The Stanley Clark School. I knew after just one year of teaching drama/theatre at SCS that my students were perfect for Speech competition. In my first year coaching Speech, I took just one student to Indianapolis to compete with 26 other schools. She took 2nd in Humor! The rest is history. We have been offering Speech Team to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders ever since. But if you’ve never been a part of Speech yourself or had a child participate in Speech Team, you may not be familiar with all it entails.

Ms. Chudzynksi at Speech Team Rehearsal

The History of the Honor Society

Speech Team individuals are each a member of The National Speech and Debate Association, which changed its name from the National Forensic League in 2014. This honor society was established in 1925 by Bruno Jacobs of Ripon College in Wisconsin to motivate high school students to participate in Speech and Debate activities. By 1970, the NFL reached 300,000 members, including me. Finally, in 1995 the NFL began offering membership to middle school students, even though SCS students had competed in Middle School tournaments starting in 1991 as members of the National Junior Forensic League.

Speech Team Rehearsal

The Training and Dedication of Competing in Speech

Currently, a student can choose to compete in one of 13 categories of speech and debate: Discussion, Impromptu, Extemporaneous, Original Oratory, Declamation, Humorous and Dramatic Interpretation, Scripted and Memorized Duo, Poetry, Prose, and Broadcasting. Debate was reorganized to fit a middle school tournament and was added in recent years. After auditioning for the team, students choose a category to compete in and begin writing, memorizing, rehearsing, researching, and practicing before and after school. Before COVID-19, I readied a team of 50 or more students to compete in tournaments held on Saturday mornings. Dedicated students arrived at school as early as 5:15 AM to get to our furthest tournament at Ball State University. Historically, we also attended tournaments in Fort Wayne, Plymouth, Goshen and hosted our own each year. Last year, with the onset of COVID-19, in-person competitions were no longer an option, but that did not stop the Speech community! We quickly pivoted and learned how to host and attend virtual tournaments by either submitting videos or performing live online.

Speech Team Rehearsal

The Ins and Outs of Competitions and Scoring

Competitions consist of three rounds with five to eight speakers in a room (or online now) with a different judge each round. The judge ranks the speakers from 1st to last. The speakers’ rounds are added together, and the person who competed against the most speakers and has the lowest score takes a 1st place ribbon and so on to 8th place. Each place a speaker takes is worth a specific amount of points. Those points are then added together, and that is how we get the team’s Sweepstakes points and trophies. I am proud to share that we were a force to be reckoned with even in a pandemic year. Last year our team had an undefeated season.

The National Speech and Debate Association also gives points to the speakers for every tournament competition and speaking experience in the classroom, on stage, or in an assembly. These points then lead to Degrees of Honor seals for the students’ certificates that they received when they became members. To celebrate our season, we end with a banquet and announcements of the seals earned by each member. Believe it or not, I still have my certificate.

1971 National Forensic League Certificate

The True Value of the Experience

However, the ribbons, points, trophies, and certificates are not worth as much as the experience. Learning to compete, present in front of others, and be a part of a team leaves a tremendous impact on my students. Many alums have gone on to Speech competitions in high school and college and have been highly successful in Mock Trials due to their training in Speech. I hear from alumni who are lawyers, actors, and business professionals who use their Speech Team training daily in their careers. I’ve even had an SCS alumna go on to coach speech at the college level. But more than anything, Speech teaches students discipline, commitment, how to be a supportive team member, and how to compete respectfully.

Speech Team Rehearsal

About the Author

Deborah Chudzynski

Deborah Chudzynki

Drama/Theatre Teacher (Grade 4-7)
Public Speaking (Grade 8)
Fine Arts Department Co-Chair
Speech Team Head Coach and Theatre Director

  • Speech Team

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