Members of the regional team pose with their championship plaque.
Members of the regional team pose with their championship plaque.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Martin

Speech team seeks to amaze by advancing in the state series

York’s 2023 state champion PIR team and the speech team won regionals the first weekend of February in both the individual speech events and the performance in the round team, more commonly referred to as PIR. Four teams go into regionals and four come out, though the competitions get more challenging as the state series advances. With their next competition being sectionals, the team takes advantage of what they learned at regionals to get a sense of what works and what to work on.

Members of the Performance in the Round team pose with their championship plaque at the regional competition. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Martin)

“Going into regionals we had the mentality that this was our test run,” Caroline Fischer, senior, said. “It was a good place to try new things but also to make sure that because this is our first time trying these things, it will help us figure out what to do for sectionals to hopefully move on to state.”
The season starts in November but some students start creating speeches as early as June. There are around 60 students on the speech team, each of them eager to persuade, inform, and perform.
“I like seeing the kids be excited about going out and performing their piece that they’ve worked on and getting feedback to see how they can improve,” Kevin Martin, head speech coach, said. “Our motto is ‘excellence is the goal, winning is the bonus,’ so it’s about giving an effective performance and if they do all the things they’ve been coached to do and discover different effects of their performance, it shines through and gives them a good chance of placing in an event.”
Each season consists of 12 competitions, where the process starts with students picking what event they’re interested in, then discussing the event one on one with a coach, writing a rough draft that is then edited by a coach, then timing the speech, memorizing it and finally performing. Before their first official competition, they take part in a mock trial to get used to the judging experience.
“I was not prepared at all for the mock trial,” John Poulson, freshman, said. “It gave me the motivation to practice every week to be ready for the tournament. It’s a lot of work but it pays off.”
PIR won state last year and after winning regionals, they are looking to keep progressing to be one of the top three teams to make it to state again. PIR is one of the more unique events, where three representatives act in a circle for 15 minutes with music and choreography, inches away from audience members. This year’s performance was an adaptation of “The Swan” by Roald Dahl, directed by Matt Bourke and Rebecca Marianetti, regionals being the first time the team performed this infront of an audience.
“I’m nervous for every competition, but I also know that I’ve practiced for this and it’s exciting to show the work I’ve done,” Poulson said. “I find it nice to show other people how I’ve worked on this speech, I’ve made this speech, I’ve practiced this speech and I’m going to give it to you. If I win, great, but I’ve worked on this and I’m proud of this work.”
Poulson did Elmhurst Children’s Theater performances up until eighth grade, that being a big factor in deciding to join the speech team once he got to York. Martin came and introduced speech team to kids involved in ECT which is why plenty of speech team members come from theater backgrounds.
“I saw what the club did for me,” Martin said. “It gave me more confidence and also helped my public speaking skills which helped me get jobs, helped me get into college, therefore seeing how effective it was.”
Martin teaches at Thornton District 205 in the southern suburbs, which includes Thornton, Thornridge and Thornwood, at a credit recovery program that helps students who don’t have enough credits catch up so they can graduate. He originally had a degree in journalism but decided he wanted to teach so he went back to school for a teaching degree and later got hired to be a speech coach. Martin was a part of speech team in high school and became very passionate about it.
“A key in being successful is that you have to become a student of the activity,” Martin said. “It’s an opportunity for students to express themselves and communicate. It gets people involved and also helps them improve a skill that they are going to need throughout their life which is the ability to communicate.”
Half of the team consists of students involved in theater, creating a close knit group of similar interests. The other half not in theater easily gets along with new and old members, making the team welcoming to everyone a part of the community growing together.
“When I came into high school I didn’t know anyone other than people from my middle school,” Poulson said. “Speech team has really helped me expand my friendships because I have never once felt like I was outside of a conversation and it’s a great opportunity to talk to people along with giving you great life skills.”
Fischer got introduced to the speech team because her twin brother Will Fischer is on the team. He competes with the PIR team which inspired her to be their stage manager. This is her first year as a part of the team, but because of her brother, she wanted to jump at the opportunity of something new.
“He had only good things to say about it,” Fischer said. “From the group of people that do it to the way the event runs, it’s different then anything else at York.”
Each of the 15 events in the speech team performed at regionals and each of those students are getting ready to give it their all once again at sectionals coming up, then on to performances that follow. When the state series concludes, the speech team will continue to amuse at York’s Fine Arts Week.
“It’s more of a performance than anything else,” Fischer said. “Most people probably think that speeches are boring but the people that are up there are acting and have honed these minute long speeches for weeks and months which is really cool to see. It’s a category that is often overlooked during Fine Arts Week, but I think it’s one of the best parts.”

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