Denfeld News

February 7, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

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 impetus.

“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 schools.

“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.”

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