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Speech Team sets sights on Southern Huntingdon

Unlike the spring sports of baseball, softball, or track, speech is a sport for all seasons. It remains relatively unaffected by Mother Nature’s weather tantrums. Consequently, even if the weather outside is frightful, Tyrone’s Speech Team will still travel to Southern Huntingdon High School, near Orbisonia, on Wednesday afternoon 18 April 2007 for the Spring Speech Competition of the Central Pennsylvania Speech League.
In existence since 1913, Tyrone’s Speech Team enjoys the distinction of being almost the oldest team at Tyrone Area High School. (Men’s basketball is slightly older). Although the Speech Team began in 1913 and competed as a Debate Team against Huntingdon High School, today most team members engage in oral interpretation of poetry as their primary speech activity instead of team debate. Said Coach Merryman, “Because the members of our Speech Team participate in many extracurricular activities, the time they have available to devote to speech-writing is limited. Consequently, instead of spending precious time writing speeches, team participants choose an already published poem or prose passage and use their precious time rehearsing an oral performance or interpretation of the chosen poem or prose.”
As they practice an oral interpretation of their poem during the activity period each Friday afternoon, speech participants follow a fairly predictable series of steps. First, they use school computers to search two students poetry web-sites for suitable performance poems. These web-sites include Poetry 180 and The National Recreational Project Poetry site called Poetry Out Loud.
Second, they print off the performance poem and review it with their Speech Coach Richard Merryman. Thirdly, they begin to practice their performance poem, paying close attention to basic speaking skills such as Voice Volume, Speed, Clarity, and Varied Vocal Expression or Inflection. Finally, Speech Team members work closely with Coach Merryman to discover words they should accent as well as places where the poem punctuation commands them to pause or to stop.
Once the twelve team members have had sufficient practice, they prepare to perform their poetic selection at the autumn, winter, or spring competition of the Central Pennsylvania Speech League. Organized over thirty years ago in 1976 by Juniata Valley High School English Teachers Barbara Espy and Sherri Crawford, the Central Pennsylvania Speech League embraces Central, Juniata Valley, Southern Huntingdon, Tyrone, and Williamsburg High Schools.
In November, February, and April each school term, about thirty-five speech students from these five schools gather from 3:30 until 7:30 on a weekday at one of the participating schools to perform orally in one of these four different speaking categories: Offering Original Speeches, Interpreting Serious Prose, Interpreting Humorous Prose, or Performing Poetry.
Two different adult judges evaluate each student’s oral presentation. Following the presentations, the students enjoy a light luncheon provided by the host school, an awards ceremony, and then head back home by mini-bus. Thankfully, at each speech competition, the 94 year old Tyrone Speech Team had managed to garner at least one First Place Plaque along with many Designations of Excellence.
Throughout the school year, Coach Merryman and the team members constantly strive to recruit new speech team participants. The team’s most recent recruit is ninth grade academy English student Nathan Kruis. Reflected Merryman, “We are delighted to have Mr. Kruis join us on the Speech Team. With his skills, he will be an asset. Since he is in ninth grade, we hope to have him as a participant for several years to come until he graduates!”
Like many of his partners on the Speech Team, Nathan has chosen to perform a 1992 Poem by Mary Oliver derived from the student website Poetry 180 and entitled The Summer Day. In this poem, the performer appeals to the listener to appreciate the world around him and to consider life as a wild, but precious gift. Below appears the Poem that Freshman Nathan Kruis will perform at Southern Huntingdon on Wednesday afternoon 18 April 2007:
Who made the word?/Who made the swan, and the black bear?/Who made the grasshopper?/This grasshopper—I mean./The one who has flung herself out on the grass./The one who is eating sugar out of my hand./Who is moving her jaws back and forth, instead of up and down,/Who is gazing around with her enormous, and complicated eyes./Now she lifts her pale forearms, and thoroughly washes her face./Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away./I don’t know exactly what a prayer Is./I do not know how to pay attention, how to fall down/Into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,/How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,/Which is what I have been doing all day./Tell me, what else should I have done?/Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?/Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?
Like the other eleven members of the Speech Team, Nathan Kruis hopes that his performance of Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day will earn him Speech Plaque or prize. But plaque or not, Nathan as well as his older Tyrone Team Mates each will depart the Spring Competition at Southern Huntingdon on Wednesday 18 April with this prize—Valuable practice in public speaking!