Four years of extensive training and hard work paid off for seven seniors on the Wheaton Warrenville South High School speech team last month when they won the IHSA state championship nine points ahead of Naperville's Neuqua Valley High School.
"We've had some really good teams the past couple of years, so that's why winning this year was just a huge accomplishment," head coach Dave DeMarzo said. "Our school has such a good tradition and legacy, so it's been a really incredible feeling to add to that since we haven't won (state) since 2002."
The state final took place Feb. 21 and 22 at the Peoria Civic Center.
Students competed in 14 categories of events, including various forms of acting, along with limited preparation and impromptu forms of speaking. Scores from those mostly individual events factored into the team's overall score.
While there are nearly 100 students on the school's speech team, only 27 went to the state competition. Of them, 15 competed in the "performance in the round" category, a special event that gives three or more students a chance to put on a 15-minute performance.
The other 12 students participated in events that are eight minutes or less, ranging from poetry reading and oratorical declamation to humorous duet acting, which requires two people to perform a scene from a play using only two chairs and a table as props.
Seven seniors advanced to the finals and placed at state, DeMarzo said. They included Brooke Sommerfeld, state champion in radio speaking; Tommy Ottolin and Katie Weeks, who placed second in humorous duet acting; Grace McGuan, who placed second in poetry reading; Marilyn Zubak, who placed second in informative speaking; Hannah Howell, who placed third in original poetry; and Tyler Miksanek, who placed third in impromptu speaking and fourth in extemporaneous speaking.
The students start attending competitions in early November and spend many hours rewriting and perfecting their performances throughout the year, DeMarzo said.
"It's a challenge of putting the kids in the right event, getting the right material," he said, adding that competitions are tricky because the way the winners are determined is subjective. "You have to figure out that formula of what works best for the team and what works best for each kid."
While most of the speech team categories are individual competitions, DeMarzo said the students have to work together during practices and workshops.
"It's a really good balance of an individual achievement and working for something bigger than just your individual speech," he said, adding that the students also gain lifelong skills from being on the team. "They realize that they're part of something bigger."