Bill Franck walked the halls of Wooster High School with clipboard in hand, stopping to ask students how they did. With eyes always scanning, he was trying to see which of the students were his and what rooms needed to be closed. The high school was packed Saturday with a swim meet and basketball games, but the crowds for those events paled in comparison to the the one in which Franck was involved: the Sharen B. Althoff Rotary International Speech Tournament, which attracted about 1,000 students.
Franck and Holly Custer serve as the head coaches for the Wooster High School Speech and Debate team, and the two had their hands full with running the tournament.
“Crazy” is how Custer described Saturday’s event. With close to 1,000 students competing, the Wooster tournament is one of the largest in Ohio, and it is often larger than the state tournament, she said. With pre-tournament preparations, all of the rounds and post-tournament festivities, Custer said the day began around 7:30 a.m. and would likely start winding down around 6 p.m.
“This is a major event,” Franck said. About a month before the tournament, he, Custer and members of the parents association begin preparations. The event is scheduled a year out “because we know we have conflicts with all the other things going on at the high school,” whether it is athletics, SAT or ACT testing, or other activities. “This school never stops.”
Franck got his start in speech and debate in North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, when a school played host to a speech-and-debate tournament, it was mainly done as a fundraiser. “You have the tournament, and you’re done.”
But not in Wooster.
“It’s more than a tournament,” Franck said. “It’s a community event.”
“We have a supportive community,” Custer said. That support drives students to audition for the team. The team has dedicated students who are supported by “a wonderful parent association,” she added. The parents step up to make sure food service is available and the rooms are organized. “They take really good care of us,” Custer said, noting alumni come back to help with coaching the team and serving as judges for the event.
Tricia Pletcher, a teacher at Norton High School, helped Custer with tabulating the scores from each round. She said she enjoys working with Custer and looks forward to coming to Wooster every year. “It’s one of the most efficient and well-run tournaments,” Pletcher said.
Wooster High School has had a team since 1911, when it was known as the Oratorical and Debating Club. In 1931, Wooster joined the Ohio High School Speech League and the NFL — no not that NFL, the National Forensic League. In the 1932-1933 school year, the school played host to the national tournament, and it has hosted a tournament at the school ever since.
Lexi Nolletti participated in informative speaking Saturday, and she has competed in original oratory. “I live and breathe speech,” she said. The talented and accomplished junior has placed in every tournament so far this year. She pre-qualified for the state tournament and had the “privilege of going to the national tournament in Birmingham, Ala., last year” as a sophomore.
The Wooster High School Speech and Debate Team has been pretty successful in protecting their home turf, Nolletti said. While the pressure of competing at home gets in some students’ heads, she said she enjoys performing “in a place we are comfortable with.”
Alexis Florence, a Wooster junior, said her participation on the team challenges her to be a better speaker, to have a better presence, to have more confidence and to express herself better. She competed in United States extemporaneous speaking. She drew three questions and had to pick one to serve as the basis of her speech. Her choices were Net Neutrality, coal industry and transportation system.
Florence chose Net Neutrality as her topic. She had 30 minutes to write and memorize a seven-minute speech. “It sounds hard and intimidating, but once you get used to it, it’s fun,” she said.
Keating competed in humorous interpretation. He took a play, “All the Great Books Abridged,” and cut it down to 10 minutes. He had to perform all the characters with different voices and different postures for each. This year was simple compared to last year when he had 15 characters. This time around, Keating only had to perform for three.
For more information about the team, visit its website by clicking here.