I’m sitting in a classroom at UC-Blue Ash waiting for orientation to begin. A neighbor whose son cuts our grass has asked me to help judge a regional speech and debate competition for home-schooled kids. Two of her three boys will compete.
In my former life, I worked as a political speechwriter. She thinks this qualifies me to judge. I’m not sure about this but am flattered and sign up anyway.
I haven’t realized there will be so many kids. Boys and girls ranging in age from 12 to 18 from southern Indiana, northern Kentucky and southwest Ohio are here to compete explains the woman running orientation. Today’s speeches are the last chance for kids to win and qualify for April’s regional meet.
After orientation I pick a ballot for the speeches I want to judge. They range from biographical narrative to philosophical to impromptu. “That one,” I point to a gold stack of ballots. The official hands me the paperwork and room assignment for humorous speech.
To be clear, I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. In my mind, I’m thinking home school stand-up. Sounds fun, right? Plus, I’m curious to learn what today’s kids find funny. Half the things my boys laugh at I do not understand.
Ballots tucked under my arm, I start off to room 258 where I’ll join two other judges and a timer.
The first contestant, a tall, blond girl dressed in a patterned skirt and short blazer walks to the front of the room and turns to face us. “Judges, are you ready?” Her voice is clear and strong. We nod. “Timer, are you ready?” The girl turns to another teen sitting at the table with a stopwatch. The timer nods that she is. And we’re off.
Each competitor recites a memorized ten-minute speech from a work of fiction: Ramona the Pest, Hank the Cowdog, Mark Twain, the real story of the Big Bad Wolf. There’s no stand-up but it’s still entertaining. The kids are poised, self-possessed and polished.
In fact, they’re pretty amazing. I can’t fight the feeling that I’d never have been able to do this at their age. They had me at “judges, are you ready.”
I love it so much that I sign up for the finals in three weeks.
*If you live in the Cincinnati area and have three hours to spare, consider signing up. They’ll need more than 400 judges for the three-day event to be held in West Chester.