February 7, 2010
Minnesota speech students compete at Denfeld
By Andy Greder
Sprinting, jumping and vaulting in track and field
meets don’t seem to have much in common with proper inflection,
enunciation and colloquialisms at speech contests, but Jill Lofald
says similarities abound.
The Duluth school district’s speech coach
says both activities force high school students to use varying skills
in dissimilar events. Track and field meets have the 100-yard dash,
discus and pole vault, while speech contests have divisions for
poetry, humor and extemporaneous reading.
“There are a lot of different skills needed
in both [competitions],” Lofald said.
About 600 high school students from about 20 Minnesota
schools competed in 13 varying speech events Saturday at the 49th
annual Denfeld Rotary Speech Tournament.
Instead of mesh jerseys with batons, students
donned dark suits with handfuls of notes.
“Hey! Hey you! Yeah, I’m talking to
you!” was the colloquial introduction used by speaker Ryan
Gallagher in the finals of the oratory division. The Duluth East
senior then kept the judges attention with a reference to dodge
ball as an unfair comparison of “bullies vs. wimps and the
strong vs. the weak.”
The bespectacled 18-year-old then described how
acrimony toward the game of dodge ball is a prime example of how,
“We don’t let our children lose. We shield them from
it. We teach our children that, ‘Hey you will always win.’
Anytime. Anywhere. All the time.”
Instead of over inflating a kid’s self esteem,
Gallagher’s speech emphasized how personal lessons can be
garnered from losing. After his 10-minute speech, he explained its
“Last year, I made section finals, and I
was pretty devastated at the loss,” said Gallagher, a self-described
former introvert who used public speaking to become more social.
“After a while, it dawned on me that you learn more from your
mistakes and losses, and it points you in the right direction. That
is why I’m talking about the value of losing, and we shouldn’t
see it as a negative or a bad thing. We should embrace it and learn
from our mistakes.”
Gallagher, like the other dapper youngsters, did
his best to speak naturally, conduct casual hand gestures and make
eye contact with all members of the audience.
While Gallagher spoke about the benefits of losing,
he made his expectations known.
“I want to make it to nationals and state,”
he said, “but the goal is just to become a better speaker.”
Lofald has coached Denfeld for 25 years, and after
teams at Central and East folded a few years ago, she recruited
students from those schools to join her squad. She holds the now
district-wide team up as an example as to how three schools can
work together as the district implements its red plan to consolidate
“When those programs died, I thought it
was a shame,” Lofald said. “We are a big, happy family
during the invitationals, but at state we compete against each other.
That’s OK because the kids love each other.”
Since integrating the team about three years ago,
the number of East students on the team has doubled every year from
a handful in 2008 to about 35 this season.
“It’s been a really great expansion,”
Gallagher said. “Once the kids have seen other kids from Denfeld
and Central, I think they realize that we are all the same and we
all want the same things and we are friendly and nice people. ...
Stereotypes are definitely broken on the speech team. You don’t
think that poor people are from Central and rich people are from
East, or vice versa, you just see them for who they are.”