To write and memorize a seven-minute speech in 30 minutes would be a difficult task for even the most seasoned speaker. To do it as a freshman in high school about a topic as mired in facts and opinion as the 2012 election would be an even more daunting assignment.
And that is exactly what Bigfork High School freshman Shannon Frizzell chooses to do as part of the Bigfork speech, drama and debate team.
She is one of the newest members of a team that grows bigger and more successful each year. Each member competes in one or two of 15 different events. And all of them are tough.
Frizzell will be competing in extemporaneous speaking. Coach Charlie Appleby explains it as “off the cuff.”
Frizzell’s chosen topic for last Wednesday’s practice session in Appleby’s classroom was, “has the election season proven that social issues or economic issues are more important to voters.” It’s one of 25 questions assigned to extemporaneous speaking by the Montana High School Association for the school year.
“Make it so you can tell a story,” Appleby told Frizzell on Wednesday afternoon after she wrote her speech and tried to relay it to him.
He also told her to do something called “sign posting.” For each point she makes, Appleby wants her to walk to a different part of the room. Every time Frizzell comes back to a point, she needs to walk back to the spot assigned to it.
“Your driving me around,” he said. “Then the judge can follow your points, they can see where you are.”
What makes Frizzell’s job even harder is becoming educated enough on the 25 questions to be able to choose one out of a hat on competition day and hit the ground running.
“These kids are speaking on topics that some adults, while they may know about it, they have no knowledge about it,” Appleby said.
A team worth building
Last month BHS Lincoln-Douglas debate kids, Alex Hider and Gus DiPaulo, had to develop both sides of the argument for whether imprisoned “terrorists” should be given the rights of citizens or prisoners of war. This month Hider and DiPaulo get a new topic to develop — should the government guarantee healthcare.
In addition to Lincoln-Douglas debate and extemporaneous speech, Appleby coaches kids through seven other speech and debate competitions and six drama events with the help of his wife Sharon. When he first started coaching the team eight years ago, five students were on the roster. Now his roster has 29.
Appleby said his experience with speech, debate and drama was minimal before he was asked to coach. He started coaching because the original five students didn’t have a coach.
“They came in to me and said, ‘hey can you just come to the meets so we can have a chaperone,’” Appleby said. “And I kind of became really invested in these kids.”
One of the things that drew Appleby into a second season of coaching was the dedication of the students and how much of themselves they put into it. Over the last eight years, Appleby said the students involved have taught him almost everything he knows about speech, debate and drama.
It’s also something that builds life skills for the students who participate. It builds confidence, teaches students how to communicate and gives them the courage needed to speak well in front of a crowd of strangers.
“The first time they go up (to speak) they’re totally nervous, they’re shaking,” Appleby said. “And by the end of that meet, they are completely different.”
Built for success
Meets begin in October and run through January. With seven or eight meets a year, BHS students get the opportunity to compete against kids from AA to C high schools. Last winter, BHS won second in the state for drama, Hider won divisionals in the Lincoln-Douglas debate, Maddie Lorang championed divisionals in memorized public address and Zoe Gaiser won for her humorous oral interpretation. Amber McDaniel won state for her serious solo and partners Olivia Witt and Rebecca Sewell won state for their humorous duo.
BHS also produced state champions in various speech, debate and drama events from 2007-10. This year Bigfork will get the home court advantage by hosting the Class B Division Tournament on Jan. 19. Appleby said it will take about 120 volunteer judges to put on the tournament.
The state tournament is set for the weekend of Jan. 25 and 26. Appleby said he has more than a few kids with the ability and desire to make a run at state this year.
Good examples of kids who are driven are Hider, who championed her first Lincoln-Douglas debate of the school year in Browning, and Lorang, who won divisionals in memorized public address both her freshman and sophomore years, and is pushing for the state championship this year.
“We get kids who are just committed to it,” Appleby said. “It’s the thrill of competition for kids who don’t necessarily compete in other things.”