ART, DESTINATIONS, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

A Ride to Houston in a Red Convertible

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An on-stage extra, portraying an on-screen extra

TRAVEL BUG TALES: MY DAYS IN THE NFL

FYI, in my life, NFL stands for National Forensic League, not a sports league.  They don’t call it that anymore, but it sounds so much more interesting the way I remember it, than the way they have improved it. Unfortunately,  I find that to be true about more and more this day and time.  A few days ago I blogged about a speech tournament I judged and it brought back memories of my days in the NFL.  I thought I’d tell you about them.

Stairway Way to Paradise

I was unaware of it when I was in high school, (as far as I know the term hadn’t been coined) but I was a nerd.  Chances are my mother realized it, with or without the appellation, and that’s why she encouraged me to participate in pretty much anything that would get my nose out of a book.  One of my high school adventures was the Cothurnus Club, Bryan Adams’ drama club.  According to Dictionary.com, “cothurnus” is “a grave and elevated style of acting.”  I’m afraid there was nothing grave or elevated about our productions, but that was the name.

In my sophomore year, I had a couple of bit parts in a production called Stairway to Paradise.  One part actually involved a few lines, but the other  was more fun.  I played an on-stage extra, portraying an on-screen extra.  As such, I got the opportunity to spend most of my time dressed in the costume of a Southern Belle.

In spite of both parts, I spent most of the time hanging about backstage with the speech and drama students who recruited me into the NFL.  They also talked me into signing up for speech in my junior year, because then I could join the gang on a phenomena called speech tournaments.

The Red Convertible

Fast forward to October of my Junior year.  I was in speech 101 and I somehow convinced my parents attending a speech tournament was exactly the right thing for me to do at that point of my life.  I’d talked them into sending me on a mission trip over the summer and I had come home in one piece, so I was on a roll.

1972_Chevrolet_Impala_ConvertibleWhat was even more amazing to me was Jimmy Jordan had invited me to ride to Houston with him.  Jimmy was my favorite person in the speech department. Jimmy was not a football hero or my latest crush.  He was just my friend, Jimmy Jordan, but he was very groovy.(Groovy was “sick” or “the bomb” back in the days before words became synonymous with their antonym.)  He had a red Chevy convertible with white interior, which I thought was the coolest car I’d ever seen.  (At least it was the coolest car I’d ever seen since that Jaguar XKE at the 1966 State Fair – but that’s another story for another day.)

On the day in question, I threw my suitcase in the trunk of Jimmy Jordan’s car, along with his other passengers’ belongings, and we took off with the sun shining and and our hair blowing in the wind.  We got to the University of Houston early enough to drive around the campus and  feel very groovy.    The signature song of the trip was Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and it seems the disc jockeys were playing it several times an hour.  Or maybe it just seemed that way, because the other hit at the time was The Isley Brothers song, “Brother, Brother, Brother” and the word “brother” got a lot of play in in both songs.  Serendipitously, Marvin Gaye was crooning as we cruised the campus – one of my all-time favorite memories.

My Life as a Compulsive Big Mouth

That’s not a confession of some sort.  That’s the name of the speech-to-entertain I had prepared for the tournament.  I recall a few moments of dread as I was called up to give the speech and the immense relief I felt when it was over.  To my amazement, I made it to the next level of competition.  Another of my all-time favorite memories.  Pretty much everyone from our school made it to the semi-finals.  I was thrilled to be among them.

And Then There Was Galveston…

After a fast food dinner at Prince’s Drive-in (which was supposed to be the “it” place), we returned to our Ramada Inn and got a pep talk from our speech coach.  She was fresh out of college and proud to bursting that all her little fledglings were not only accounted for, but also in the semi-finals on the following day.  Our teen-aged bodies were casually draped across the whimsical components of the motel’s playground, as we listened to her schpiel.  I wish someone had taken a picture, but we didn’t do as much of that in the days before smartphones.  Taking a picture back then entailed posing.

Her final words to us were, “and don’t any of you dare to go to Galveston.”  Up until that very moment I sincerely believe not a single soul had even thought of the fact the beach was just a little bit down the road.  We were completely enthralled with being away from home without our parents and hanging out on a college campus.  We were also amazed that all our rehearsal time had paid off and we were all semi-finalists in the tournament.

However, the moment the word “Galveston” was out of her mouth, we had to go.  I forget the logistics of the episode, but soon the red convertible was making it’s way to Galveston.  By the time we got there, we’d all run out of adrenaline.  Jimmy parked his car, we scampered on the beach for a few moments and then didn’t know what else to do.  So we hopped back in the convertible and rode back to the Ramada Inn.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Speech Coach Scorned

Today, there would have been a whole lot of texting going on.  By the time we made it back, there would have been a gaggle of angry parents, ready to snatch their darlings back to Dallas – all the more angry at money spent on airfare.  We might even have made the news or at least been included in an Amber Alert.  In the glorious days before smartphones, all that waited for us was one very mad speech coach.  Had our escapades become known, she would have probably lost her job, but thanks to the lack of smartphones, that didn’t happen either.

Come to find out, we probably hadn’t gotten all the way out of the parking lot before one of the girls went and ratted on us.  For the record, she’d been invited on the spontaneous road trip, but she had decided she didn’t want to join us.  When she turned us down, she’d claimed she needed to work on her presentation. After we returned there was a tearful episode where she testified of a sincere concern for our welfare, but we all knew she was just another brown-nosing snitch.

We were royally dressed down andwe regretted upsetting the coach, but we hadn’t intended any harm.  We were just teenagers – teenagers who needed their sleep.  Most of the presenters who are listed in the final paragraph of the article below were probably in on the escapade (I was Jane Cave in that phase of my life).  Bryan Adams ended up fifth in the tournament, but with talent like we had and a little more sleep, we might have brought home the gold.

My Forensic Career Winds Down

I was not among the talented.  Though I would end up talking for a living, I wasn’t so good at speech tournaments.  The only other tournament I attended was something called a Mock Legislature.  We went up to Denton and were supposed to be debating issues and operating committees like they do in Washington.  I confess I didn’t really understand what was going on, so I spent most of my time flirting with the competition.

We did host a speech tournament at Bryan Adams and I remember thoroughly enjoying the experience.  We had all been forgiven by then and showed our ability to handle responsibility by planning and executing a very successful tournament.  I think my job was to man the concession stand – another career foreshadowing activity.

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ART, Attractions, DFW Metroplex, Performing Arts, TRAVEL, WRITING

Speech Tournament Delivers Hope and Memories

Capture speech tournamentAT HOME IN HEATH: COMMUNITY JUDGING FOR NCFCA TOURNAMENTS

So, if a couple of hours could make a difference in a kid’s life, would you make time for it?  Hypothetically we’d all say yes, but I’ve discovered a way to do just that.  I’d love for you to have the opportunity to join me and all it will cost you is a little time and a little gas.  Let me tell you about my day of judging and then you will probably want to contact kristikirch@hotmail.com and volunteer for the speech tournament in March.

The Ask

A friend of mine knew I lived somewhere over here on the east side of the Metroplex, so she told me about a speech tournament in Wylie.  She home-schools her kids and they would be participating.  She asked if I would be a judge.  Before you start trying to disqualify yourself for one reason or another, let me assure you that if you can read, write and hear, you’re qualified to be a community judge.

My friend didn’t know I had participated in speech tournaments during my high school career.  She just knew they needed judges.  However, as soon as I read her email, I remembered my first speech tournament.  I was lucky enough to catch a ride to Houston in Jimmy Jordon’s red convertible.  To this day, just a few notes of Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On” will transport me back to that beautiful October day.

On the strength of that memory, I agreed to sign up for the Wylie tournament.  I didn’t know NCFCA from MSNBC, but I remembered the excitement of dressing up in my very best clothes and giving a humorous speech-to-entertain titled, “My Life as a Compulsive Big Mouth.”  It was not (as I had hoped) the beginning of my career as a stand-up comedian, but since a good portion of my professional career was spent speaking in public, in a wide variety of situations, I do believe the opportunity to participate in speech tournaments contributed to my life’s journey.

Since so much in our world has changed since that exhilarating ride to Houston, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed in high school speech tournaments, but I knew there was little reason to speculate, because the tournament was only a week away.  I’d find out soon enough.  I carved out enough space to judge three events and went on with my business.

The Day

On the day of the tournament I stood in my closet wondering what to wear.  Would there be young men in suits or a kaleidoscope of blue denim?  I hedged my bets and wore trousers and a blazer.  That way I’d fit in either way.  As I drove to the tournament I noticed the weather on that February day was much as it had been on that October day of the red convertible.

The first thing I noticed were young men in suits looking very serious as they scurried between buildings.  The breeze snatched at their ties and played havoc with the dresses and tresses of their female companions.  I grinned widely.  Some things do stay the same.  Kids still wore their best clothes to the tournaments and they were nervous as they trekked between events.

I found a parking space and made my way into the building.  I can’t explain to you how warm my welcome was.  The lady sitting at the Judge Registration Table made me feel as if I were some sort of hero.  Feeling even better about my decision to judge, I took my badge and headed towards the judges lounge, passing the judge’s snack table along the way.  I was delighted to be a part of the mild chaos going on around me.

The Events

After a brief training session on judging, my first event to judge was a round of interpretive speeches classified as Biblical Presentation.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded interesting.  Was it ever!  Biblical Presentation is a dramatic interpretation of portions of Scripture.  The students presented lengthy passages from the Bible with intros, comments and summaries they had written.  All the passages included dialog and the students would portray each of the characters with only a small piece of cloth as a prop.

Each student memorized about eight minutes of dialog and accompanying gestures.  We had Queen Esther; the Prophet Balaam and his donkey; Mary and Martha; and a few others.  While Esther, Mary and Martha were to be expected, I was surprised when more than one contestant selected the talking donkey and pleased the focus of their interpretations varied greatly.  By the end of the round I had developed a new appreciation for the youth of America!

My next event was debate.  This was a more challenging event for the judges.  We had to keep a flow sheet of the arguments, judge who won the debate and judge the performance of the individual debaters outside the outcome.  In my debate, one of the debaters was by far the best speaker and I actually agreed with his point of view, but the other young man blew him away when it came to formulating his position and defending it, in spite of the weakness of one of his defenses.  I gave the debate to the guy I disagreed with, but gave the other speaker higher points.

I thought my final round to judge would never begin.  This time I had chosen Impromptu Speaking.  I was exhausted from the technicalities of the debate and Impromptu Speaking seemed as if it would be easier to judge than Extemporaneous Speaking or Apologetics.  The round was supposed to start around six, but through no fault of the contestants we didn’t begin until almost seven.  We were short on judges (hint, hint, hint).

In extemporaneous speech, a contestant is given 30 minutes to prepare a 7 minute speech.  From my memory, those speeches had some pretty heavy subject matter.  Impromptu topics ranged from Make Believe to Bad Habits and only last about five minutes after two minutes of preparation.  That seemed more my speed.

My brain was worn out, so I can only imagine how exhausted the kids were.  They’d been performing all day, compared to my half-day of judging.  Many had an event in each round and some multiple events within a round.  It seemed almost cruel to have extemporaneous and impromptu speeches at such a late hour.  As much as I wanted to cash it in and call it a day, if these teen-aged troopers were going to speak, I was going to judge.

While the Biblical Presentation scoring depended to a certain extent on how well the kids were able to memorize a lengthy passage, Improptu Speaking was all about thinking on your feet.  The kids had up to five minutes to speak, but most barely made it past the two minute mark.  One spoke for about six minutes, but that didn’t help their score.  The point was to use up the time without going over.

The last contestant in the round was the most heart-breaking for me.  From some conversations I had overheard, I learned this particular young man had not only performed multiple times that day, he’d also had a big hand in running the tournament.  Someone had to go find him and bring him to the room.

One of the most heartwarming things about the day had been the courtesies the students extended to the judges.  As they entered they would shake our hands and then move into position to speak.  They’d wait quietly until we’d finished shuffling our papers and whispering among ourselves.  Then they’d ask us if we were ready and politely ask for the timekeeper to start the clock.  After they had performed, they would shake hands with each of us and thank us for judging.  Sure it was rehearsed and formulaic, but it was invaluable skill-building and quite touching.

When the final contestant came in, he was visibly spent.  He went through the handshaking routine and retreated to a corner to prepare his speech on the subject he had drawn.  It was apparent that he was an accomplished, well-spoken orator, but it was also apparent he was done for the day, long before he entered the room.  The merciful part of me wanted to give the round to him out of compassion, but I remembered this wasn’t just about who won or lost the round.

I put him among the top contestants, because he did do a better job than some of the others, but I didn’t give him the round.  In my comments I told him I regretted not being able to proclaim him the winner, but I hoped he’d take my advice to heart – learning your limits and managing your assets is more important than winning a round in a speech tournament.  This fine young man will probably manage a major corporation or run for high office someday.  At least I think he will, if he doesn’t run out of steam somewhere in his twenties.  I will probably not see him or hear of him again and if I do I won’t recognize him, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I shared some of my hard-won wisdom with him at a time when it might do some good.

Now It’s Your Turn 

The next NCFCA speech tournament is March 9th-12th at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen.   Go to www.ncfcajudges.com to sign up.  Click Texas on the map and select “Allen Qualifier.”  I hope I’ll be seeing you there.