Jimmy and Molly McDermott of Mount Prospect are turning heads in the national speech and debate circuit, and they haven't started high school yet.
The brother and sister each won titles at the National Middle School Forensics Tournament last month in Birmingham, Ala., emerging as champions from the nearly 700 students entered from 93 schools in 27 states.
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Jimmy, who will be a freshman at Prospect High School in the fall, won the declamation event, giving his own interpretation of a TED talk, "The Lollipop Moment," first delivered last year by comedian Drew Dudley.
"Declamation events are taking someone else's speech and giving it in 10 minutes," Jimmy says. "I like having the chance to change it into something that inspires people."
He inspired the judges through all three preliminary rounds, before winning the finals to claim the national title, his second in as many years.
Molly will be an eighth-grader at Lincoln Junior High School in Mount Prospect. She took first in the dramatic interpretation event -- after appearing in her first national tournament.
For her speech, she took the 256-page book, "Mockingbird" by Kathryn Erskine and turned it into a 10-minute performance, that contained all of the upheaval of a family after a son's death and the daughter's inability to articulate her grief.
"When I walk out of my round," Molly says, "I want people to still be thinking about my piece."
They were. Like her brother, Molly advanced through the prelims into the finals and ultimately first place.
"You gain a lot of confidence, getting up in front of people and giving a speech like that," says Molly, who also competes in Irish step dancing, sings in the choir and performs in school musicals.
Both teens come by their talent, naturally. Their father, Scott McDermott, helps coach speech at Prospect, where he is an associate principal, after coaching the activity for 16 years at Glenbrook South High School.
He also competed in speech, himself, at Prospect, under longtime coach, John Arquette.
He concedes his oldest two children have grown up around speech and debate tournaments. Jimmy has not missed a local high school tournament over the last four years, he says, and Prospect students already look to him for his insight on their delivery.
"Of all the things I've done with high school students," McDermott says, "this is the most relevant. We're teaching kids to communicate, to command a room. They're really learning how to speak to someone."
He also sees the confidence his own children have gained, as well as the ability to think and articulate on their feet.
"It's moved them into a whole new mindset," McDermott says, "that they can do anything they set out to do."
Both Jimmy and Molly competed as independents at the national tournament, since Lincoln -- like most middle schools in the area -- does not have a speech team. But they look forward to joining the team at Prospect, with as many as 80 students involved.
"I'm very excited about it," Jimmy says. "It will be a whole different pace. Competing as independent, we had just one tournament all year. In high school, we'll have competitions every weekend, from September through February.
"It's one of the longest seasons of any team in the school," he adds. "I can't wait."