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Area speech students earn state titles

WORTHINGTON -- Two students from southwest Minnesota schools took top honors at the state speech competition Saturday, and 13 others placed in the top eight.

"Everyone always says the No. One fear in people is public speaking, and I think with speech you get over that fear," said Morgan Potter, 17, the daughter of Scot and Chris Potter of rural Windom, who won first place at the state level in the prose category. "... it really builds your self-confidence."

Sean Benz, 18, son of Anne Foley and Dan Benz, earned first-place honors in the extemporaneous reading category for Worthington High School's speech team.

"Find your strengths and your weaknesses and definitely stay in the category that you feel you're best in," Benz advised prospective speech participants. "Keep going over the top and just have a blast at speech meets and don't worry what anyone else says about your piece."

Potter, too, had advice for people about to give a speech.

"Have fun with it. Don't take it too seriously. I've seen many people fall short of what could have been a really, really good piece, because they take it way too seriously," Potter said. "Don't give people what they want to hear. Give them what you think is right and what you feel fits with your piece."

Both state champs are longtime participants in speech. Both spent long hours working on their presentations.

Their categories, however, are very different.

Prose and poetry

Potter earned first place in the prose category, in which participants give a speech consisting of an excerpt from a book or a short story.

She chose a piece from "Black and Blue," a novel by Anna Quindlen about a woman abused by her policeman husband.

Initially, Potter meant to participate in the poetry category. She switched to prose because three other students from her school were already working on poetry -- though she still competed in both categories in some meets.

"I had a rough year because originally (my coach) had picked a poetry piece for me to do," Potter said. "I was kind of wary about (switching to prose) because I had worked hard on the poem, and I thought it was going really well."

Finding a good prose piece turned out to be Potter's biggest challenge this year. The first few pieces she tried either didn't fit or weren't well-written enough for her to bring to a competition.

In prose, participants may memorize their speeches, and they always introduce the pieces with explanations.

At a meet, speakers present their material three times, each for a single judge, who scores the piece.

They get eight minutes each time, and if they make the final round, they are judged again by three judges.

Potter has been working on her piece since late February, along with the 47 other members of Windom's speech team. Six people from her team went to state this year.

"One of the things that I love most about speech is when you get into the higher levels... the quality and the pieces get so much better, and the performances do as well," Potter said. "There's so many talented people up there."

Extemporaneous reading

Benz won in the extemporaneous reading category, in which participants do not memorize pieces.

Instead, they are given books of 15 stories at the beginning of the year.

At competition, they draw three stories, and after half an hour of preparation time, read one to the judges.

The stories are often classical pieces, with a few modern ones thrown in. Choosing the right story can be critical.

"As soon as I drew my cutting, I would always ... find a bathroom and stay in there because it's nice and quiet and I can just hear myself think," Benz said. "I think of the intro off the top of my head ... and then ... I would go out into the hallway and practice, usually to a wall or a locker."

In extemporaneous reading, participants need to know the stories well, and if they miss words or sentences, their scores are hurt and if they miss too much, they could even be disqualified.

"I just love it that you get to read out of a book, and especially stories that are entertaining. Some can be very depressing, but ... if you can really sell a depressing story, it'll really be a great story to do," Benz said.

In his final round, he missed two sentences, but quickly caught back on and did an excellent job on the rest of his presentation.

The others in his category also missed words and sentences -- partly because they needed to maintain eye contact with the audience and partly due to nervousness.

"I just felt really glad that I was back at the state competition. I know the experience of being up at state, but as soon as the first round was done, I felt extremely good," Benz said. "I felt pumped, I had energy. I knew I was ready to go."

Other southwest Minnesota students who placed at state were: Londyn Robinson of Luverne, fourth place, Ryan Vesey of Windom, sixth place, and Jessica Petersen of Murray County Central, seventh place in discussion; Jeremy Clark of Worthington, fifth place in extemporaneous speaking; Sydne Springman of Adrian, third place, Ryan Gullickson of Murray County Central, fourth place, and Loretta Bartosh of Southwest Star Concept, fifth place, in great speeches; Laura Lorang of Adrian, second place in informative speaking; Shelby Springman of Adrian, seventh place, in original oratory; Brady Ysker Giefer of Windom, third place, and Mijah Murden of Windom, fourth place in serious interpretation poetry; Jacob Schneider of Pipestone, sixth place in prose; and Jack Martin of Worthington, seventh place in storytelling.