Speech Team Speaks Virtually


Every Year the speech team travels around the state on Saturdays in December and January. Students compete in a variety of events and gain valuable experience. This year – they aren’t traveling, but they are still competing. The IHSA State series is slated to begin on February 6 with regional competition, and the sectional and state tournaments will follow on February 13 and February 19-20. In a year where so many things have been canceled, the speech season is happening, and it’s exciting to see happen, said head speech coach Susan Bookless. 

The season started at the DeKalb Corn Classic on December 5. Junior Jovian Pham was the only entry from Galena High School. He competed in the Radio Speaking Competition. “For Radio speaking, students are given a packet of news information and have to create a five-minute news broadcast,” explained Bookless. “This was Jovian’s first tournament and I was so proud of him for placing in the novice final.” Pham placed 7th in the novice round.

In December, speech tournaments were held mostly asynchronously – meaning that students who competed recorded their speeches, and Mrs. Bookless uploaded them to the tournament website. Judges had the ability to judge on their own time and entered their rankings and results electronically. 

On Saturday mornings, when students would usually be traveling to a competition location, the tournament final rounds are announced. Students who have the lowest six scores overall (each student is trying to get first in the preliminary rounds of competition) advance to a final round regardless of their speech experience. Students who are competing for the first time on the speech team are marked as novice speakers, and a separate final round is created for just those students. “Having a novice round gives students the opportunity to receive more feedback from the judges,” said Bookless. “Students can then use this feedback to improve their speech for the next week. Also, they get recognition for their hard work, which is really important and can make them feel more confident.”

For their next tournament the team “traveled” to Rochelle High School for their invitational tournament on December 12. Pham again qualified for the novice final and brought home the 5th place award. Joining him in novice finals were Emma Blaum ‘24 who spoke in the Oratorical Declamation category and placed 4th, and Andres Sanchez ‘21 who placed 6th in the novice final round in Impromptu Speaking. 

“Oratorical Declamation is an event where you take the speech of someone else and perform it as your own,” said Blaum. “I perform a speech by Collin Kartchner called “Can flip phones end our social media addiction?” Sanchez who competes in the category of Impromptu speaking said, “I am given a topic and have to make up a six-minute speech about it, on the spot.” In a regular season, Sanchez would only have two minutes to prep his six minutes speech, making this an event for people who think quickly on their feet. 

To round out the competition in December the team entered the Byron Holiday Classic on December 19. “This is always a big tournament,” said Bookless. “The competition is really intense. There are lots of kids entered in each event, so making it to a final at this tournament is an accomplishment.” Only one member of the team advanced to the final round. Pham again was entered in the novice final for radio speaking and placed 5th. “It was an extremely unique and exciting experience that could only be experienced through our age of quarantining,” explains Pham. “If the tournament is in-person next year, I wonder how much it will contrast from this one.”

Mrs. Bookless looked for a tournament to enter her team in on January, 9. “The only tournaments that were available were in the Chicago suburbs,” she explained. “I knew those tournaments were going to be really big, and my students might not have the experience to compete with those big schools.” She decided the best thing to do was host her own tournament. 

“I had seven schools enter, and it was mostly small schools from our area of the state,” Bookless said. This was a good choice because every student who was entered in the tournament qualified for the final round of varsity competition. This meant that all students who entered were seen by six judges and received a ton of valuable feedback. 

 Pham placed fourth in the Varsity Final of Radio Speaking. In the Varsity Final of Impromptu Speaking, Sanchez placed second. Blaum placed first in the Varsity Final of Oratorical Declamation. The team placed fifth overall. Everyone who competed submitted a video that was judged between Friday and Saturday. The awards ceremony was held on YouTube. “I did the awards ceremony live from my dining room,” said Bookless. “My kids couldn’t stay away and so they got to help hand out “awards” to the competitors. 

On January 16, the team attended the Freeport High School NIC-10 Virtual Conference Challenge Tournament. This was the first tournament that boasted a live final round. “Like earlier tournaments, students submitted their videos Thursday night,” said Bookless. “They were judged and final rounds were decided. These students were then sent information and had to go live on Saturday morning.”

“This is my second year doing speech and I feel like I grew a lot in my section,” said Andres Sanchez. “I practiced a lot and made it to regionals!” He continues, “I have had the live audiences and judges before but to be back felt great. It’s really a thrilling time to be in speech and I think everyone should try it out!”

At the end of the day, both Blaum and Sanchez brought home awards. Both students placed 2nd in their next-in final round. 

For their last tournament of the regular season, the small speech team entered the Top of the State tournament at Jefferson High School in Rockford. This was the first tournament that would hold live rounds all day. According to the Jefferson speech coach, this was the first all-live tournament held in the state of Illinois this season. 

The team had a strong showing. Pham placed 2nd in novice radio speaking and Blaum brought home first place in the novice division of oratorical declamation. 

The IHSA State Series kicked off on February 6 at a tournament hosted by Sterling High School. Three members of the GHS speech team entered this post-season tournament which was held live. “There is always more pressure when we get to the regional,” said Bookless. “This is an elimination tournament, so if you don’t place 4th or higher in your event – your season is over.” Blaum and Pham rose to the challenge and had outstanding final rounds. Blaum secured 3rd place in tough competition and Pham took the 2nd place spot in his category. Both students moved on to the IHSA Sectional tournament held on Saturday, February 13 at Freeport High School. 

“Sectional competition is tough,” said Bookless. “There are only 12 students in each event and many of them are juniors and seniors who have been working towards making it to state since their freshman year.” In addition, there were only three freshmen who qualified for the Freeport Sectional. In order to advance to the state tournament, a competitor needs to place in the top three in their event. 

After two rounds of intense competition, neither Pham nor Blaum qualified for the final round. “Truthfully, I wasn’t disappointed at all knowing I’m a freshman competing at a varsity level,” explains Blaum. “There were lots of other very talented speakers, so I knew it would be tough competition. Public speaking happens to be something I really enjoy doing, so I was very excited to join the speech team.”

It is still uncertain what next year’s speech season will look like. However, it is clear that with these strong returning members, the future of the Galena High School Speech Team is promising.