Levi Cole also advanced to the state speech competition.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Levi Cole also advanced to the state speech competition. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Four members of Chatfield High School's (CHS) speech team placed at the section tournament held in Byron on Saturday, April 13, and those who placed third or higher advanced to state competition at Blaine High School in Blaine, Minn., this past weekend, April 19 to April 21, rising early on a Saturday morning and speaking in front of a crowd of people who know about enunciation, diction, delivery and drama.

Junior Danielle Norton placed sixth in prose at the section tournament and Gabby Bouska placed third in poetry, Levi Cole earned second in drama, and Kayla Nelson earned first in poetry. This made her the section champion in her category.

An update on how the kids did at the state speech tournament will be published in next week's Chatfield News.

"We are lucky to have such great kids on our team. Usually only one person advances to state from our team, and this year, with three people advancing, we couldn't be prouder," said CHS speech adviser Kelly Puent.

Puent explained that the kids competing at state have a number of years of experience in speech, are dedicated to working on their pieces, have talent and the drive to excel at the things they do.

"Our practice regimen remains the same through the season," she added. "Students are expected to practice at least twice a week with a coach or both coaches. Some of our students also seek out other performance opportunities to get in more practice and feedback. Some students make a point to practice more than twice a week with a coach and our coaching of the students doesn't end until they are completely finished with competition."

She went on, "Rachel Schieffelbein, the assistant coach, and I not only help the kids in coaching, but are constantly learning from their ideas and performances, too. Not only do we learn things from our own kids, but we also get great ideas for upcoming years by watching other performances at the state level."

In an interview, prior to the state tournament, Puent said she felt confident that her students are ready to take on competitors in each of the 13 categories at state.

"The team as a whole has had a lot of success this year, and we have a number of kids with a lot of potential," she said. "As a group, they are really good kids that are involved in a number of different things, yet still make the time to be part of our team and represent our school well, not only with their achievements, but with their attitudes and work ethic. It's a great feeling to know they have earned their place at such a high level. Students have to work really hard to make it to this point, and the competition they face as they go, and once they hit the state level, is pretty tough. It's nice to know that they are among the most accomplished in the state, and that they are some of those top contenders."

Puent would like her students to understand the magnitude of the speaking occasion. "I hope they enjoy the fact that this can be a rare experience and that everyone in the state, at least those involved in speech, is looking at them as a success story," she said.

Their peers will see them as kids who are really headed toward great accomplishments, not only in speech, but in anything that they choose to commit to. They will see that work and dedication pay off.

"Our school provides a number of opportunities for kids, and we have a lot kids in many different activities, not just speech, that give it their all," Puent added.

Post-Secondary Options program and CHS senior Levi Cole called advancing to state "surreal," as he hasn't been able to attend as many practices this school year as he would have liked. However, he credits Puent and Schieffelbein for their understanding and assistance.

"It has been my goal to make it to state since I began my speech career," he said. "I was one place away from making it last year, so I pushed myself just a little farther this year and I guess luck was on my side. And seeing all of the other state competitors will only help me grow even more as a speaker...I hope to learn new acting techniques by watching and performing against all of the other state competitors."

They're nervous, of course, but in an unusually anticipatory way. Nelson noted that "It's crazy, thinking that we're among the best competitors in the state," and that she's glad to be among the competing state candidates "because they're like family...all of us have a good time, we have a good laugh, we love putting ourselves out there and being dramatic."

Bouska observed, "It doesn't seem like it's going to be as stressful, even though it is the state competition...unless I start thinking about it."

Nelson is looking forward to being at the Mall of America, "going out to eat...it should be a fun trip."

Norton, who almost placed high enough to advance, is already considering her topics for next year. "I'm excited that next year, I might get a piece that I know I'll do something good with."

Nelson added, "As a senior, I know how much potential Danielle has, and that brings her one step closer to state."

Bouska admitted to being a bit scared that she will not do as well next year as there is some stiff competition in her category.

Cole is ready to take part in "one last state competition to make memories with my team."

Not only do Nelson, Bouska and Cole get to go to the state tournament, other students from the speech team get to attend.

Puent stated, "Beyond our state competitors, we take quite a few other speech team members to the state tournament to watch the performances. We ask the kids to watch at least one round of the category that they intend to compete in for the next year. This gives kids ideas on how to perform and possible speech selections for the next year."

She added that they also like kids to watch a few rounds of categories that they are not in, in case there is another category they may be interested in.

Puent concluded, "It's been a record-breaking year for us, and we couldn't do that without the dedication of the kids, the support of the speech parents, and the community. It's all part of the equation."

Cole calls competing at the state tournament a privilege and an honor. "There's a lot more to speech than the stereotypes about it," he said. "Everyone in speech deserves props for doing what a lot of people are afraid of - public speaking. Many valuable life skills are developed by participating in speech, and I am very grateful to have been a part of it for so long."