Speech team learns, excels

Erik Walker and Kathleen Perry are the co-head speech coaches at Fairmont High School.

Fairmont High School’s speech team has a long and successful history in competition.

The team has been making it to the state meet for many consecutive years now.

Kathleen Perry and Erik Walker are in the middle of their fourth season as co-head coaches. This week, they provided a season update.

“It’s been really great picking up where the team left off,” Perry said. “It was a really huge dynasty we had to fill with [former coaches] Roxy and Cliff Janke, and it’s been great to continue the success of the program.”

The speech season runs from January through April, so this year’s team has a few competitions under its belt.

“Our kids are really busy with a lot of different activities and speech is team, but it’s also individuals,” Perry said. “A lot of the kids are very much involved in different activities, and I love that I can coach an activity where kids can be involved in other things and I can be flexible around their schedules.”

She explained that speech has 13 categories, from acting like a character in theater to giving formal presentations about current events.

“There’s a lot of different categories and we definitely get a lot of different personalities and interests so that makes our team really diverse,” Perry noted.

She said students who have been involved in theater, dance or any sort of performance-based activity find their way to speech, but it is not only for those who love to perform. It is also for those who are afraid of public speaking.

“They learn to be a confident and powerful performer and to have a passion for what they do,” she said. “The ranks and the awards are fun but the biggest take-away that the kids always say is that they are a confident public speaker and can make people laugh or think.”

The meets take place Saturdays and the team often has to travel, so the competitions take up a whole day.

Perry said that each year the number of students on the team fluctuates between 35 to 50 students in grades 7-12.

“There are more young ones that start out but by 11th and 12th grade we have a good core group of upper classmen,” she said.

This year, there are four seniors on the team: Eric Head, Grace Higgins, Sydney Hainy and Bethany Linse.

“They’re great leaders,” Perry said. “You see their names in the papers in other activities and they’re very well respected by their peers.”

She went on to explain that the upper classmen really play a hand in helping out the rest of the team.

“The success of the young ones goes all the way up to the old ones,” Perry said. “If they’re coaching young people, it makes them better. What we say is we leave a legacy and that’s why we continue to have the success that we do. it’s not just what me and Erik do, it’s what the kids give back.”

On Saturday, the team will participate in the first big grade 7-12 competition of the season at Mankato-Loyola.

On Jan. 25-26, some members of the team went to the Marshall Speech Spectacular. Moret than 800 students from four or five states attend the meet.

“Since we’ve started we’ve had success at that tournament as a small school,” Perry noted. “This year, we had five people in out-rounds, and one of them, Bergen Senf, was in the final round of discussion. It was a really amazing boost for the team to see one of our kids in finals. She got third place out of 50 or so students in that category. As a team, we were recognized as the Class A sweepstakes champion.”

Some members of the team went to Cannon Falls the first weekend in February and came in second place, missing first place by just 1 point. Fairmont had 15 finalists and four champions at that meet.

With a slew of meets in coming weeks, the team is looking forward to the competitions. The section and state competition will take place in April. While everyone hopes to go to state, Perry likes to focus on the improvements the students make throughout the season.

“I love seeing the kids grow from seventh to 12th grade,” she said. “I have not had my seventh-graders as seniors yet, but I can’t wait. I’ve grown a lot as a coach and we’ve made this team our own from what it was. The success has been consistent as a team, but it’s so great to see the growth of the individuals year by year.”

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