Falmouth ‘speechies’ talk up the competition

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FALMOUTH — “It’s not what you say,” the old saying goes, “it’s how you say it.”

For a fledgling team of students at Falmouth High School, that couldn’t be more true.

The speech team, a group of 12 students who to some degree complement the debate team, is now entering its third year. And while 12 may not sound like much, it’s a pretty substantial increase over enrollment three years ago, when Ellie Sapat was the only member.

Sapat, now a senior and the team captain, said speech is different from debate, although the two are often confused. She said while debate is more about substance and trying to win an argument, speech is more about presentation.

“Debate really focuses on proving a point,” she said last week at the school. “Speech is really about connecting (with the audience).”

A handful of speech team members gathered at the high school last week to explain what a speech team is and what they do. Things like eye contact, hand and body gestures, and how the subject is presented matter, they said.

Senior Keenan Kent is a former member of the debate team who is now on the speech team. Kent said while he likes debating as a way to learn new things, he found the model of competition for debate teams not particularly conducive to listening and learning.

“For me, I very much like debating in real life,” Kent said, adding he thought the speech team was a more “cooperative” environment.

Members of the team said there isn’t really that much fierce competition between speech teams. Rather, there’s a sense of camaraderie between teams across the state. They even have their own nomenclature: speechies.

“It feels like a big, cooperative effort,” Kent said.

The benefits of speech, team members said, include increased social skills, improved public speaking and presenting, and better listening skills.

Like any club or sport, speech is time consuming. The students practice during the week, then travel for competitions on Saturdays. Sapat said a speaker will generally have between five and 10 minutes to read their piece at competitions. The focus can range from poetry to original work, depending on the competition.

According to assistant coach Krista Riccioni, one major difference between speech and sports or other clubs is that the people who come to see a speech team perform are usually other competitors. Because of that, speechies make up a tight-knit community.

Sapat said the speech team has provided a way to meet “the best of Falmouth,” the best of Maine – and beyond.

Sapat, Kent and freshman Oscar Brautigam will be heading to the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City in June. While Sapat has gone to nationals three years in a row, this will be the first time the team has sent three students. The team is trying to raise nearly $3,700 for the trip through the Edco crowdfunding website.

“Fundraising is important this year because it sets a precedent,” Sapat said: it shows the team’s commitment to sending multiple students each year.

Going forward, team members hope to keep building awareness and growing the numbers.

“We need to get the word out more so people know this team exists,” Riccioni said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Falmouth High School Speech team at Lewiston High School for the state tournament. Now in its third year, the team has grown from just a single member to 12.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.