By Brandon HENSLEY
One by one, the Holy Redeemer cafeteria began to fill up with middle school kids late Friday afternoon, April 1, who were talking nervously but excitedly to one another, each asking the same question:
Hey, how did it go? How did you do?
The reason for their inquiries as well as their fancy attire – the girls looked ready for a spring dance, some boys were dressed in suits – was simple: jr. high students from five Catholic schools around the foothills converged at Holy Redeemer in Montrose for the Regional Speech and Debate Tournament.
The competition, held two to three times a year, is part of a Catholic school league of sorts. Speech and debate teams from Holy Redeemer, St. Philip’s in Pasadena, St. Rita in Sierra Madre, Our Lady of Lourdes in Tujunga and St. Luke’s in Temple City are all in on the fun together.
In all, 95 students competed Friday. There is no team award, only individual prizes given out afterward.
There were three rounds for each category. Students participated in speech, debate and acting categories, such as interpretive speech.
“It amazes me that these kids, sixth and seventh graders – what are they, 10, 11 [years old] – they get up there and they memorize these eight-minute [speeches],” said Lina Palomo, one of the St. Philip coaches.
Palomo said some kids memorized all of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech while others were doing an interpretation of a Monty Python sketch.
High school students from Alverno, Loyola, Crescenta Valley, Flintridge Sacred Heart, St. Francis High School and Immaculate Heart volunteered as judges.
Palomo pointed out that some of the judges were once in this tournament, so they are especially qualified to handle this competition.
The judges place their votes individually from one to three. If there are ties, judges use a point system based on the student’s poise, clarity and subject matter.
“They’re developing something that they’re going to use forever: making coherent arguments, convincing and persuading people,” said Holy Redeemer coach and parent volunteer Stephen Webb. “And in speech, you learn to speak fluently and be able to not be nervous.”
Webb was busy on this day, down in one of the classrooms tabulating votes after each competition. A never-ending line of kids was behind him to hand in their papers and wait for Webb to direct them to which classroom they would compete in next. Webb, who has a daughter on the Holy Redeemer team, took over the main coaching duties this year after the two parents who were in charge last year left the school.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be this much work,” he said. For all their hard work, the volunteer coaches at least got to have some free pizza and soda.
Webb coaches the debate part, although he said he is more of a theatre person.
What is his main point to relay to the kids?
“When you’re dealing with middle schoolers, a lot of it is teaching what the idea is behind the category and how to do it.”
The hosting duties of each school rotate each season. But because some of the schools in the league are much smaller, they opt not to host. Holy Redeemer will likely host again next year, said Webb.
The important part is that the tournament prepares students for the future. Once kids grow, they may have to do a lot of public speaking.
“This prepares them to get over that fear,” Palomo said.
For now they can still enjoy being young, playing dress up, and talking excitedly amongst themselves after a big speech.