John Mark Shields

LEXINGTON – The long speech season enters the final stretch as the Lexington High School Speech team prepares for the district competition on Tuesday at North Platte High School.

How long a season?

Students started picking and researching their speeches in October last year, this is their sixth month of speech giving.

“I think our season has gone well,” said Lexington assistant speech coach Kaitlyn Clark. “Honestly, I think our kids are peaking at the right time for districts.

“My goal is to see them out-perform themselves,” Clark continued. “To see them improving in terms of placement and points.”

The team will take 12 students to the district meet in North Platte, two more than last year, and Clark is optimistic about her current team’s chancing of giving a strong showing and possibly emulating last years team, which sent various speakers to the state competition in Kearney.

“We’re in the most difficult Class A district in the State,” Clark said about the stiff competition her team expects. “We want them to have that drive, that hunger, that’s what we’re hoping to see next week.”

Although speech team may seem like a group of students performing individual competitions, head coach Heather Garrelts said her squad functions as a supportive team, especially with the three-person oral interpretation of drama category and the two duo teams.

“They do unite as a team,” she said. “They help each other do their best. We want them to be happy with their performance and not just with how they placed.”

Various Lexington speakers expressed cautious optimism about their chances at the district meet, with some saying they have seen improvement in their speech giving.

“At the beginning of the year it was going slow, I did medal once. I’m really excited for OID (oral interpretation of drama),” said Alyssa Olsen, whose goal is to make the final round at the district meet for OID.

For Lizzy Sarnes, who performs serious prose and is on the three-person OID team, her first year on speech team has been a revelation.

“I was kind of iffy and I didn’t know what to expect,” Sarnes said. “It’s been a lot more enjoyable that I thought. I regret not doing this my first two years.

“I’m pretty hopeful, never overly optimistic,” She said about her chances at districts.

For John Mark Shields, who performs poetry and is on a duet team, the whole season has been one practice run for districts.

“I feel like everything I’ve done throughout the season has been preparing me for districts,” Shields said. “I hope to surprise myself. Hopefully I’ll make it to state.”

Extemporaneous and persuasive speaker Luciano Ramirez said improvement throughout the season has given him hope going into the final stretch.

“My speech season started mediocre, it ended more promising,” he said. “I have improved in extemporaneous tremendously.”

Ramirez said his goal is to place in the final in both of his events at districts.

For both coaches, the hours spent after school and at speech meets reinforce their top priority, which is supporting their students.

“The kids are respected leaders,” Garrelts said. “They’re involved in everything.”

Garrelts said there is no reason for her students to be upset if they’ve given the best speech they could. It’s that type of philosophy that allows team members to focus on improving after each competition rather than just doing enough to medal.

Public speaking is not easy. Some people fear public speaking more than death; but a certain amount of nervousness can end up pushing students and overcoming that is key, the coaches said.

“We want them to be in the moment at that moment,” when they’re giving their speech, Garrelts said.

“We don’t want them to be defeated,” Clark said admitting that nerves, pressure and stiff competition can get to a student speaker and affect their confidence.

“We want them to give the best speech that they’ve given on Tuesday,” Clark said.

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