Speechies. They’ll beat you with their minds. They’ll thrill you with elocution. They’ll entertain you with wit, drama and improvisation. And they’re only high school kids.
The best speechies in all of California will gather this weekend at Enochs High School to compete in the California High School Speech Association state championship. Usually, much bigger cities host this event. There will be roughly 1,500 students – many wearing suits or professional dresses – waiting for turns to impress volunteer judges from all over our area.
In 15 different categories, there’s something for everyone. Dramatic and humorous interpretations can be incredibly entertaining or moving. Original prose and poetry can inspire. And for those who want to see verbal fisticuffs, the policy and parliamentary debaters will try to hammer their foes into submission. In impromptu, you’ll find young people who are not only talented but extremely fast in delivering a zinger.
More than a few future celebrities have competed at the state level. “Glee” star Chris Colfer was a dazzling debater for Clovis High School. If he’s one of the most recent alums to make it big, there are many who came before him. The nationwide list includes Oprah Winfrey, Adam Sandler, Kelsey Grammer, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and even Bruce Springsteen – who was the New Jersey Extemporaneous Speaking champion before he started putting music to his words. Future politicians who once competed included Bill Clinton, Antonin Scalia, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and fully 60 percent of all U.S. senators and representatives.
Why did Modesto get this tourney?
Clearly, it’s a great time of year to visit Modesto. We have a beautiful city, and the weather is mild. But we also have an incredible history as speech and debate hotbed. Much of that is due to former Beyer High School speech coach Ron Underwood. We should probably amend his title to former Beyer High School legend Ron Underwood. National Speech and Debate Association coaches earn points whenever one of their competitors advances to the state or national tournaments. Underwood compiled more points than any speech coach in history. And while Ron was coaching, cajoling, encouraging and motivating the competitors, his wife, Sharon, was helping in the “counting room” or on the “judging desk” for a huge number of tournaments throughout northern California.
Unlike basketball or football, speech and debate is not very often a spectator sport ... unless you’re a judge. If you have a few hours today or Saturday, and think you can keep from cheering when you are especially moved by a competitor, then volunteer by showing up at Enochs High this morning. The action begins early, at 7:30 a.m. The final rounds, which are open to the public, start at roughly 2:45 p.m. Saturday.
Who knows, the speechie you see this weekend might be your governor in a few years.