More than 550 students representing 105 schools from 17 different states competed Dec. 14-15 at West Des Moines’ Dowling Catholic High School’s Paradigm, an annual contest that serves as a forerunner for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC), one of the nation’s most-challenging contests for speech, debate and oral interpretation.
Making it all the way to the semi-finals of the Program of Oral Interpretation category, East High School junior Carter Vanderloo received a trophy. Based upon his overall second place finish in Dramatic Interpretation, he earned the opportunity to advance to the NIETOC finals, May 8-10, in Houston, Texas.
On the other hand, Vanderloo’s classmate, Leai Britton, had the chance to die on stage a total of four times, securing the East High School senior a second place finish in the Prose category.
Wait, what was that again?
“I play the part of a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with a baby,” Britton, after doing an interpretation of Elise Sharron’s “I Dream of Lillian,” explained. “Not only do I die but I get to tell my daughter that I’ll look after her, even after death.”
East drama and humanities teacher Marissa Kuiken said emotionally-charged readings often captured judges’ imaginations during dramatic interpretation programs, which allow contestants to use scripts while performing written monologues.
Essentially, a student is doing the equivalent of a one-act soliloquy, multiple times as they advance from round to round.
Which means that Britton had to die for different sets of judges, with a possible gap of an hour between each round while Vanderloo, playing the part of a young man battling mental illness, faced a similar time crunch.
However, if you’re like senior Whitney Lester, a contestant in multiple categories, a character must be shed in a matter of minutes.
“You’re constantly moving from classroom to classroom, trying to stay focused since you have to stay in the moment,” she explained.
In addition, contestants are trying to figure out how their performances by the judges and how they stack up against other students.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Lester said. “It is definitely that.”
But it can also be very rewarding.
A four-year veteran of speech competitions, Lester has received the honor of Academic All-American through the National Speech and Debate Association, the world’s largest honor society devoted to speech and debate activities.
She earned this recognition based her success in past speech competition as well as GPA of more than 3.7.
“The kids who excel at speech and debate tend to excel in all other school subjects,” Kuiken said. “Speech and debate give them self-confidence and the ability to think on their feet.”
More importantly to Lester, it allows her to step into the shoes of other people.
“Because our reading relies heavily on people experiencing personal issues, you do develop a lot of empathy for them,” Lester said.
That was certainly true for Claire Hendrich, whose portrayal of a child in an abusive family, earned her a fourth place in prose.
Unlike her classmates, Hendrich, a Kansas native who recently moved to Sioux City, hadn’t previously been involved in any speech or debate tournaments before.
“This is all new for me,” she said. “I like it a lot.”
That may be an understatement. Similar to Britton and Lester, Hendrich wants to study to become a teacher involved in either music, drama or speech when in college.
Vanderloo, on the other hand, wants to study something much more scientific after he graduates from high school.
“I’d love to either be pre-med or study statistics in college,” he explained. “In speech or debate, you’re always concentrating on the smallest details that hold many of the answers worth looking for. I think the medical field, the smallest details also matter.”