MUNSTER | Mention team building and championships, and many people think of sports.
At Munster High School, the speech team is one of the non-athletic squads that consistently wins state and national awards. Former team members include Nan Hayworth and Todd Rokita, who are freshman members of the U.S. Congress.
Recently, the Munster speech team captured its 13th Class 2A state championship and won the Ralph Lawson trophy for the overall state championship for 11th time at the Indiana High School Forensic Association state finals in Fishers.
“This is quite remarkable because we won the state championship for the third year in a row. The school hasn’t been a three-peat since 1970 to 1972,” said Jordan Mayer, an English teacher who directs the Munster speech team with Don Fortner, a social studies teacher.
“We set a state record for qualifying the most students for the final round.”
The Munster team also won the state title in prose interpretation for the fourth consecutive season with senior Tatiana Padilla repeating her victory from last year. Another senior, Alison Reba, won back-to-back state titles in dramatic interpretation, and senior London Borom took home her second state title in scripted duo interpretation. Borom also was named the James Hawker Mental Scholarship Award winner for 2012.
“All five state champion students are minority students,” Mayer said. “That demonstrates the excellent diversity on the team and in Munster.”
Borom, 18, said Munster’s speech program “allowed me to better my public speaking skills and my sense of teamwork. That includes helping others to prepare. It takes hours of work, dedication and time, not just to win, but to have a team effort.”
She and sophomore Zaria Suggs will present their award-winning scripted duo performance “A Land of 1,000 Hills” at the national competition in Indianapolis in June.
“You learn how to present yourself. At the beginning, we had novice practices where we get help from our peers,” said Suggs, 16, who joined the speech team this year.
“You are representing yourself and your school.”
For generations of Munster speech team members, English teacher Helen Engstrom was the driving force behind the speech and debate team she started in 1965.
Although she retired from Munster High School, Engstrom still coaches team members as a consultant, Mayer said.
In published reports, Rokita, a 1988 graduate of Munster High School, credits Engstrom for helping mold him as a public speaker.
He said Engstrom’s instruction taught him about rival communication skills that eventually became assets in his career.
In politics, “you’re only as effective as a communicator as your ability to organize your thoughts,” Rokita said in that report from Washington, D.C. “That’s something I learned in her class, and it’s been helpful to me.”