Memories from our founder, Gerald Dyer
I began teaching in 1962 at ASHLAND JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. My second year I organized a DEBATE team and my seventh graders challenged HOPKINTON JUNIOR HIGH to debate. I went back my old high school and consulted my former teacher and forensics director for tips . She was ELIZABETH (BETTY) ROWE a New England debating dominatrix. Miss Rowe was quite helpful, although she was not too keen about junior high school debating. She made me promise that if I ever got a high school job, I would start a forensics program. No one ever said no to Betty Rowe.
I followed her technical advice concerning debate fundamentals but I spent most of my time concentrating on confidence, appearance and speaking skills. Ashland soundly won the debate with Hopkinton and I was hooked on working with students developing speech skills.
The next year (1964-65) I was hired to teach at NATICK HIGH SCHOOL in the social studies department. By some quirk of fate PUBLIC SPEAKING was a twice a week elective offered by the SOCIAL STUDIES department!
Legendary football coach DAN BENNETT was the PUBLIC SPEAKING teacher and he was not enthralled with that assignment. He learned of my debate success at Ashland and my volunteer work at BOSTON COLLEGE where to meet my community service graduation requirement , I tutored members of the football team so they could pass the speaking proficiency test that was a BC requirement.
Dan Bennett pulled some strings and he was relieved of his PUBLIC SPEAKING assignment and I was given that responsibility.
My first semester of Public Speaking was interesting. Most of the students had elected the course because Mr. Bennett was expected to teach it and they were looking for credit without much work.
An exception to this was an outspoken red headed girl from Wethersfield whom I guessed was on the
Public Speaking roster to get closer to the jocks who were expecting Coach Bennett.
By second semester I had become established and the kids were doing well. I wanted some type of culminating activity to reward those especially proficient speakers. Once again I called on my old teacher and Betty Rowe took the opportunity to call in the chits. The state debate and speech tournament had just occurred and there was interest in having another late spring speech tournament at my old high school, where Miss Rowe was the reigning FORENSICS QUEEN. That high school was SHREWSBURY HIGH SCHOOL,
Needless to say I couldn't say no to Miss Rowe and I put together a small group of students to take to Shrewsbury. Once again I used the confidence, appearance and speaking skill prep AND carefully selected speech material that fit the student and was a bit edgy, using literature that was both contemporary and controversial.
That was in the spring of 1966 and the NATICK HIGH SCHOOL SPEECH TEAM was born. NATICK dominated the day winning a number of events by bettering recently crowned state champions.
Among the winners that day was the redheaded girl from Wethersfield who's name was Sue Billian. The speech bug had bitten Sue and she went on to EMERSON COLLEGE and from there into a career that brought her speaking skills as well as her confidence and presentation to an audience of millions. Sue has recently retired but she remains a NATICK SPEECHIE at heart. We know her as SUSAN WORNICK.
At the onset, the identification NATICK SPEECH TEAM did not exist. Natick High School was "THE HOME OF CHAMPIONS but that was because of the spectacular record of the sports teams, especially the football team.
The small group of students involved in the speaking game did not want to be identified as a TEAM. Instead this group, most of whom had been turned on by the Shrewsbury experience the previous spring discussed among themselves and came upon the identification NATICK HIGH SCHOOL COMPETITIVE SPEECH PROGRAM. This name lasted for years and there are still many ancient speechies who revel and regale over their days in "Competitive Speech. "
Our principal the venerable HAROLD ROSEN was proud and supportive of what he still refers to as COMPETITIVE SPEECH.
Mr.Rosen had been the head of the NHS GUIDANCE DEPARTMENT and he fully appreciated what this activity could do especially for students with no other expressive outlet or sense of belonging.
The speech year at that time consisted of two (yes TWO!) tournaments.... A qualification tournament and state finals. States was run by the MASSACHUSETTS SECONDARY SCHOOL SPEECH AND DEBATE LEAGUE.(Just reciting the name was a good warm- up exercise.)
Betty Rowe became very ill and had to withdraw from her leadership role. She volunteered me to host a qualifying tournament and not being able to say no I did agree although I never before had even been to one. But our group worked and planned, recruited more speechies and set out to make a stab at what we thought was the way to host and organize a tournament.
I was extremely lucky to have a member of the Foreign Language Department faculty come forward and assist. This is how RICHARD GAUDETTE burst into the world of speech.
The preliminaries hosted at Natick went extremely well but the state finals were a disaster. Betty Rowe was not present and the coaches and league officials were befuddled. The success of the tournament at Natick, coupled with the abyss created by the absence of ELIZABETH ROWE combined to see me come back to Natick as the president-elect of the.....MASSACHUSETTS SECONDARY SCHOOL SPEECH AND DEBATE LEAGUE.
BETTY ROWE died soon after that. I often think that the election of her ditzy former student to the role she had filled so nobly for over a decade hastened the call from THE GREAT TAB ROOM IN THE SKY.
The state speech league had become my responsibility. My first official action was to establish a team sweepstakes award for the state tournament, THE ELIZABETH ROWE TROPHY.
Each of the past few years in December a debate festival with a few speech events had been organized and hosted by Betty Rowe at Shrewsbury I was determined not to let this new tradition die...so I brought what had been at Shrewsbury to Natick without changing the name that Betty had called it.
AND THE HOLLY SPEECH FESTIVAL had a new home and a new style.
That spring an especially spirited group of talented students from Natick traveled to the UMASS campus at Amherst, The team stayed at the on-campus hotel, competed all day on Saturday and rode home possessing a silver Paul Revere bowl engraved THE ELIZABETH ROWE MEMORIAL MASSACHUSETTS SECONDARY SCHOOL SPEECH AND DEBATE LEAGUE TEAM SWEEPSTAKES TROPHY.
THE HOME OF CHAMPIONS had a new TEAM of which to be proud. one that didn't wear cleats or shower together.