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.”