MetroWest Daily News Article
By Brittney McNamara/Daily News Staff
NATICK – Did you know that melanoma isn’t just a skin disease, that it can affect your eyes, too? How about the scientific process of how snowmelt can affect the environment?
Speakers at the Natick High School Holly Festival knew. On Saturday, high school speech teams from about 25 schools across the region gathered in Natick to participate in the competition, which organizer and speech coach Sarah Donnelly said is a day about more than just the trophies.
Started in the 1960s by speech team leader Jerry Dyer, the Holly Festival has drawn schools from across the state and the area for years. While the confidence and quick wit cultivated through public speaking helps students academically, Donnelly said the work leading up to the big day also creates a lifelong bond.
Both Donnelly and assistant coach Joyce Albert were on the team while they were in high school at Natick. Though they aren’t teachers at the school, both came back, along with assistant coach Amanda Parker, because they wanted to foster the same community they enjoyed for today’s students.
“You work together as a group (like a sports team). You’re not on the same playing field at the same time, but you must take the time to come together as a team,” Donnelly said. “These are my best friends…and we pass that forward.”
The community is built, Albert said, because preparing for the tournament is a lot of hard work. Students and coaches organize the tournament schedule, register other schools, get the building ready and figure out where each event will be held. In addition, students are preparing to deliver their own speeches in the competition.
“It’s a real bonding experience,” Albert said. “There’s so much work to do, then they see the fruits of their labor. There’s a lot of satisfaction…and they feel part of something, maybe for the first time.”
Students can compete in one or multiple of about 20 events, including a new one called informative speaking that allows students to pick a topic of their choice and teach the audience about it. That’s how some students got the word out about melanoma and the cultural impacts of snow. Other categories include extemporaneous speaking and dramatic speaking. Most students compete in only a few categories, but some enroll in a “pentathlon,” in which they go through five categories.
Along with making students better public speakers, Donnelly said joining the speech team gives students lifelong skills that they will use daily.
“It teaches you a lot of different lessons,” she said. “(Including) something I don’t think you learn anywhere else, which is to defend yourself powerfully through the spoken word.”
It also, of course, teaches students about community.
“Most importantly to me is community,” Donnelly said. “We have built a beautiful community.”
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.
MetroWest Daily News Article
By Brian Benson, Daily News Staff
NATICK – For members of the Natick High School speech team, participating in an activity that challenges them to recite poetry, excerpts from novels and other works is about much more than mastering public speaking skills.
"It teaches you ... how to put yourself out there with confidence," said Marie Libbin, a senior.
Fellow senior Jenna Davidson said she’s "learned to act and try new things and be able to not be embarrassed by myself."
Last weekend, the team received the pinnacle of speech team awards at the grand national tournament of the National Catholic Forensic League? in Chicago. Natick received the Founders Award, which is presented to the top five schools in their speech team category.
Students from about 1,200 schools sought to qualify for the national competition in one of three categories – speech, debate and combined speech and debate, said Natick coach Sarah Donnelly, who had 13 students qualify.
The Founders Award was based on Natick's top three performances: Senior Jeffrey Heithmar and Davidson placed 25th out of 231 pairs in duo interpretation. Libbin placed 4th out of 243 students in oral interpretation and Connor Shea, a sophomore, finished first in declamation out of 223 students.
Team members said the Founders Award, Natick’s first in 48 years of having a team, recognizes the accomplishments of current and past members."
We finally reached this goal we worked so hard for," Heithmar said. "We can only build on that."
Heithmar and Davidson performed excerpts from of "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl, a book they said had a fun, energetic vibe and also a message.
Libbin performed poems and "A Portion of Your Loveliness," by Amy Bloom.
Shea performed his interpretations of "The Myth of the Gay Agenda," a speech by LZ Granderson that Shea said sends an important message that despite people being of different sexual orientations, everyone is one human race.
"It’s just an amazing piece I feel everyone needs to hear," said Shea, who acknowledged he was nervous as he went deeper into the multi-round competition.
But, Shea had his teammates to cheer him on as students, though they do not compete as one like many sports teams, all support each other and have become friends.
"We’re not on the field together, but we have to make sure we still become a team," Donnelly said. "We really work hard at that."
Congratulations to all of our NCFL Qualifiers: Natasha Amaravadi, Patrick Conaway, Jenna Davidson, Emma Foley, Jeff Heithmar, Julia Grace, Joseph Guidi, Julianne Kelleher, Marie Libbin, Anna Meyer, Danielle Rosen, Connor Shea and Ryan Ward.
Our team had an amazing Memorial Day weekend at the NCFL Grand National Tournament in Chicago. Congratulations to the team of Jenna Davison & Jeff Heithmar for placing 25th in Duo Interpretation, Marie Libbin for placing 4th in Oral Interpretation and to Connor Shea for bringing home a NCFL Championship in Declamation! Additionally, the team was presented with a Founder's Award for placing among the top 5 speech schools - a first for Natick Speech!
Boston Globe Article
By James Sullivan, GLOBE CORRESPONDENT
JANUARY 03, 2014
The halls inside Natick’s sparkling new, $78 million high school were bustling. Students scampered down thoroughfares labeled Main Street and Da Vinci Drive, headed to classrooms. Some called out to friends or gathered in fleeting clusters.
But this was no typical day in high school. For one thing, it was early on a Saturday, a cold one with a snowstorm forecast; many of these teenagers’ peers were probably still in their pajamas. But many of the students here had risen before dawn, dressed in suits, and traveled from towns across the state. In the hallways, many walked deliberately, alone, reciting aloud to themselves.
This was the Holly Speech Festival, the annual December competition Natick hosts for high school participants in the Massachusetts Speech & Debate League. Three dozen schools — from Arlington, Lexington, and Milton Academy to Wahconah Regional High School out in Dalton — compete with teams of aspiring debaters, performers, and speechwriters in events through the school year. They’ll converge next on Newton South High School on Saturday.
“It’s the best thing you don’t know about,” said Susan Marianelli, president of the board of the MSDL, also known as the Massachusetts Forensic League. That’s a line often repeated among students, parents, and speech coaches who believe the league’s competitions offer some of the most useful lessons high school has to offer.
Launched in 1925, the National Forensic League (NFL) marked its one millionth member around the turn of the new century. There are currently 120,000 high school and middle school members nationally, representing nearly 3,000 schools; about 500 high schoolers participate in Massachusetts. But only select schools have speech teams, and the league is better established in some parts of the country — Texas, California, the Midwest — than in others. And as schools struggle with budget restrictions, a traditional emphasis on public speaking has flagged, speech officials say.
For participating students, however, the benefits are apparent. Many go on to careers in law, policy, or communications, said organizers at the Holly. Others aspire to act on Broadway, teach, or go into sales. Events fall into four categories: public address; debate; limited preparation, which requires contestants to deliver talks with little or no time to get ready; and interpretive events, where students perform dramatic or humorous literary works or scripts.
Participants say that the interpretive events draw those most interested in theater and performance, while the other contests tend to attract students with interests in public affairs, politics, and law. Coaches generally agree, but they also point out that some of the skills overlap, and the range of applications is practically boundless.
Notable alumni of the NFL include Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert, Renée Zellweger, John Belushi, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and John Roberts, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the statistician Nate Silver. Longtime Boston broadcaster Susan Wornick was one of the first speech students of Natick’s Jerry Dyer, a legendary figure in the community who was visiting the Holly as a coach emeritus, more than a decade after his retirement.
“Speech was the single most important thing for me, not only in high school but in my entire education,” said Nate Richardson, a graduate of Shrewsbury High School and UMass Amherst who recently worked on Josh Zakim’s successful campaign for election to the Boston City Council. He was on hand to volunteer in the “tab room,” a temporary command center where events are run and students’ scores are tabulated.
Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama and 1987 national champion in extemporaneous speaking, agrees. “It changed my life, really,’’ he wrote in an e-mail interview.
“I have used the skills from extemp throughout my life. Preparing a coherent idea under extreme time pressure turns out to be pretty good preparation for many things,’’ wrote Goolsbee, who competed for Milton Academy. “And to this day, I still make an outline for a speech based pretty much on the old extemp model.’’
Across the school, students had begun their presentations. Inside one classroom, a young thespian in a three-piece suit performed a humorous piece gleaned from Paul Feig’s “Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence,” in which he lamented his inept first passes at dating and the Neanderthal rituals of gym class. The whiteboard behind him was scribbled with other pieces to be performed by fellow students, including excerpts from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Danielle Rosen, a Natick senior, stood outside another classroom waiting for a speaker to finish so she could enter. She was “double-entered” — competing in two events scheduled at the same time. It’s her eighth year of forensic competition, she said; she started in the junior program in fifth grade.
In college, “I want to major in public relations with a minor in biology,” she said. “In theory, I’d do PR for a pharmaceutical company.”
When she heard the students inside the room clapping, she knocked lightly and entered. She strode to the whiteboard, where she wrote down her number (1127) and the title of her piece.
As Rosen took a seat, a judge called up another young woman. Standing poised in a skirt suit and high heels, in front of an array of paper snowflakes, she scanned the room with unwavering eye contact and began reciting a personal essay about finding the courage to make a difference in the world. It culminated in a lesson learned on a summer study program she attended in Johannesburg.
At these competitions, parents serve as judges, ranking by ballot and offering comments. Students typically compete in at least two rounds in groups of six or seven, followed by quarterfinals and semifinals at larger tourneys, and finals. At the end of each contest, awards are given out for individual events and team performance. The Natick speech team is the defending state champion.
Local students who qualify also compete in national events. This year’s National Forensic League championship will take place in Overland Park, Kan., in June; competitors will vie for $200,000 in college scholarships.
Despite appearances, what these overachievers learn on the speech team is not how to succeed, said Marianelli. It’s how to fail.
“You’ll learn that you’ll get up and make a total fool of yourself, and survive,” she said. “That’s the key thing. Failure is inevitable, but you survive. That’s a great thing to learn early in life.”
Marianelli has coached the team from Milton Academy since 2004. A speech-team member in high school in her native Indiana, she returned to teaching after working as a systems analyst for IBM. She jumped at the chance to come to Milton.
“Part of the reason speech is not as prevalent as it once was is funding,” she said. “In Indiana, I had to raise all the funds for us to go to tournaments. The only thing the kids could afford was the $5 entry fee.
“When I was told I had a budget at Milton I almost started crying — ‘You mean I don’t have to wash cars anymore?’ ”
In another classroom, a volunteer judge sat at a desk in front of “Wanted” posters of Wild West characters: Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid. She took notes as the tall young woman at the head of the class delivered an extemporaneous talk. Her piece equated the strong public reaction to Obamacare to that over pop singer Miley Cyrus.
Marianelli fears that speaking in public could become a lost art form in the age of the Internet.
“We don’t know how to communicate anymore,” she said. “Students don’t know how to make facial expressions. They look at computer screens.”
While virtually all former and present speech competitors agree that their communication skills improved markedly with practice, most note that the contests also taught them how to take full advantage of their own personal strengths.
“Joining the team was one of the smartest moves anyone ever recommended to me.’’ Goolsbee joked. “Most people back then said I was way too loud. The coaches [Debbie Simon and Dale DeLetis] said that I might as well use that for something.’’