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WMS speech team debuts Saturday after hiatus

Worthington Middle School Speech Coach Erin Makela (right) gives seventh-grader Miles Fischer suggestions to improve his speech during a Jan. 29 practice prior to the Feb. 3 Trojan Speech Invite at Worthington High School. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)1 / 2
Worthington High School Speech team members that competed Jan. 26 and 27 in Marshall include (back row, from left) Captain Ben Lopez Captain Theo Oputa, Anwar Farra, Captain Sean Souksavath, (second row from back) Anya Hartzler, Jack Johnson, Tad Stewart, Mike Martinez, (second row from front) Cynthia Souksavath, Mariel Castaneda, Victor Villalobos, New Bu, (front row) Katie O'Donnell, Ashley Noerenberg, Jade Rohrbauck and Sam Van Westen. (Special to The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — This year’s Trojan speech team features new energy.

And plenty of it, assures Worthington Middle School Speech Coach Erin Makela, with regard to the energy and excitement her group of 12 middle schoolers bring to their first year of competitive speech after District 518 reinstated the middle school program following an 18-year hiatus.  

“They’re very high-energy and very excited,” Makela said. “They’re very unsure of what they’re doing because they haven’t seen it yet, but they’re very excited to try it out.”

After several months of practice, the seventh- and eighth-graders new to competitive speech will get their first chance at “trying it out” this Saturday at the Trojan Tournament. They’ll compete amongst about 300 other middle and high school-aged students from about 20 schools.

One of those students is WMS seventh-grader Miles Fischer, who admitted that he’s both nervous and excited for his first speech meet. He’ll share his analysis of John F. Kennedy’s speech, “Ich bin ein Berliner” — a topic he said he wanted to explore because he finds the former president inspirational and has an interest in German.

“It’s about how communism affects the world and can cause separation and slows down freedom for all people,” Fischer said.

Fischer, who said he has done some public speaking at Veterans Day programs, school concerts and to school board members, thought participating in speech would be a good idea.

“By the time I’m in high school I’ll know how to speak better,” Fischer said of his intent to continue competitive speech in high school after developing skills now as a middle schooler — an opportunity his high school teammates did not have.

WHS junior and Trojan Speech Team Captain Ben Lopez said the middle schoolers now have an opportunity he wished he would have had more than four years ago.

“These kids are starting what I did two years ago (as a freshman),” Lopez said.

Because Lopez understands the uncertainty the middle schoolers are likely experiencing, he and other high school speech members have been helping critique and mentor their younger peers to prepare them for competition.

“When we were freshmen we had examples set by the seniors,” Lopez said. “We should mentor (the middle schoolers) because we want speech to keep growing.”

Fischer said that mentorship has been helpful.

“It’s nice to work with high schoolers because they’re going through a similar situation,” he said. “They can connect.”

Fischer plans on using the next two years to explore multiple speech categories in hopes of honing in on what he’s most passionate about pursuing in his high school competitive speech career.

Makela said it is great to have the middle school speech program back this year after it was likely cut 18 years ago due to the lack of a coach. She and veteran WHS Speech Coach Linda Neugebauer began working on the logistics of its return nearly two years ago.

“It offers the students who don’t do a winter sport an activity they can participate in and still interact with other people and still be competitive,” Makela said.

Neugebauer is equally excited, as that extra exposure will potentially allow them to grow more in their high school career, she said.

“It’s key,” Neugebauer said about exposing students to speech two years earlier. “They understand that speech is cool and awesome. They’re so excited to share themselves. There’s something so raw and beautiful with their expressions.”

Neugebauer is also touched by the camaraderie her high school students are developing with the middle schoolers as they offer mentorship, support and critique.

“As a teacher you get really proud to watch constructive and kind criticism,” she said.

The high school team will also participate in Saturday’s Trojan Tournament, which begins at 9 a.m. at Worthington High School.