“To be a champion, compete; to be a great champion, compete with the best; but to be the greatest champion, compete with yourself.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo
I’ve already confessed I’m not competitive, in fact I tend towards anti-competitiveness.
With that in mind let’s talk about my first trophy.
When I was in 8th grade we were offered the opportunity to take Speech. We were told that if taken our 8th grade year it would be counted as our Speech credit in High School (thereby avoiding taking the class again). This was an incredibly enticing opportunity as it insured I would be taking the class with only kids my age. High school speech was notorious for having a wide spread of ages (because students avoiding it).
I joined the class and even got an A. Freshman enrollment rolled around and wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t count a junior high credit in high school! I was not a happy camper. I wanted to get it done and out of the way so I signed up for it that year.
About two weeks from the end of the year my speech teacher, Mr. Stein (nephew to Ben Stein), approached me. Enrollment for the next year was coming up soon. He suggested I should consider signing up for his Speech and Debate class and becoming a member of the Forensics Club. This was the first (and I’m pretty sure only) time I had ever been “talent scouted.”
To say I was flattered would be a gross understatement. I was a middle of the row kind of kid. I wasn’t a stand out student and I wasn’t a bad student either. I didn’t have any black marks for behavior but I didn’t have any gold stars either. If it weren’t for my last name and the weight that brought with it I probably wouldn’t have even cast a shadow in school… just blended into the paint.
After that I didn’t have a choice. Even if I stunk, I had to give it a shot.
The way the class was set up you had to compete in competitions to pass. Mr. Stein thought I should compete in oratory. In this category you write a personal 10 minute persuasive speech. I gave it a shot and bit off more than I could chew. I tried to construct an oratory about predestination…no, I don’t know why.
The first competition was quickly approaching and I hadn’t finished my oratory. In a last ditch effort to save my grade I had to switch categories. The easiest (for me) was to find a book, take a 10 minute chunk out of it and perform it (there had to be multiple characters speaking) for Dramatic interpretation.
“Dramatic Interpretation (often shortened to “Dramatic Interp,” “Drama” or just “DI”) is an event in National Forensic League . It consists of a piece from any published work, edited to fit within a 10-minute span with a 30-second grace period (it does not have a minimum and cannot be above 10:30). Some performers adopt the roles of many different characters, changing their tone, manner, and the position of their body to indicate a change in character.” (Information courtesy Wikipedia… because they worded it better than I could.)
It was just a few weeks before the first competition. I had to rush to find a piece and start memorizing it. I picked Mick Harte Was Here (because of my sentimental attachment to it). The first tournament of the year took place in Licking Missouri. It was a small tourney, about five schools attended. Out of 10 or 12 DI performers I was not outstanding.
The upside was now that I’d seen one of these things in action it made sense to me now. Before, when Mr. Stein had spoken about it he might as well have been speaking in a foreign language. Now that I understand I go back home and buckle down.
I’ve learned I’ll need to compete in more than one category to pass. I pulled some poems from Roald Dahl for the poetry competition, and a politically correct bedtime story (of Cinderella) for the storytelling category.
Even though I’ve added some new things to my repertoire my focus becomes Interp. Storytelling and poetry allow you to have a small script in hand. The DI is memorized top to bottom. The piece I’ve chosen gave me three separate characters to portray clearly and effectively. My year goal was to perform it well enough that I made at least one judge cry. (Judges at speech competitions are notoriously stone-faced.)
The next competition was in Springfield Missouri (I think Glendale sponsored it). This competition is so large they split it; one is for novice competitors and another for the varsity. I was obviously a part of the novice group. I don’t remember how many schools participated but there were over 300 DI entrees.
At the end of the day I not only exceeded my year goal (I made two judges cry) but I had also managed to crawl up the rankings and earn a 3rd place trophy in Dramatic Interpretation. The first time I’d ever earned an award based solely on my own skill.
For the first time in my life I understood competitiveness. I could feel the itch in my blood call me back time and time again. I finally got it, what it was to want to be the best.
I spent the next three years eating, sleeping, and breathing Forensics. I gave nearly every category a try (even stand up comedy…never will I do that again) on the drama side of things. I never did move on to debate (despite Mr. Stein’s urging). I couldn’t bring myself to argue in favor something I was morally opposed to. (I got over this in college. I now rather enjoy playing devils advocate.)
By the end of my senior year I found myself leading our schools chapter as co-president. I had even made it to State at Mizzou in two of my three biggest categories (DI and Prose). I learned a lot of things about myself in those three years.
- I like speaking in public. For real, like it… not just tolerate it.
- Drama/Debate kids are weird, and way more fun for their weirdness.
- I’m weird/quirky/awkward/nerdy, and the D/D kids embraced me for it.
- I actually had talent in something…who knew!
- Turned out, I am competitive. Very competitive. . . with myself, and no one else.