There is a resurgence in the Morris Area speech program, three members said this week.

The team had 17 entries advance to section competition on April 6. It's the most entries in more than five years. The team had eight students advance to the finals on April 6. Derek Johnson and Luci Bransel will participate in the state tournament this week.

The team members said the number of speech participants has been growing.

Johnson and Ben Giese are the only seniors on this year's team. They are joined by many underclassmen and seventh-and-eighth-graders.

"When I joined I was one of three seventh-graders who joined," Johnson said.

"I don't think we recruited," sophomore Bransel said. Rather, "...younger kids are more interested in theater in general." Many junior-high age and underclassmen participated in the fall musical "Freaky Friday," Bransel said. "A lot of them joined speech."

Giese is in his first year of speech. He joined because several other students encouraged him.

"Almost everyone on the team, I hadn't really talked to much before," Giese said. Now that he's gotten to know his team members he thinks, "Why didn't I join earlier?"

A healthy number of team members helps because participants can practice together in the same category. Also, it means the team has more chances to earn points because it can have more entries in categories.

But, the trio said, doing well in speech tournaments isn't just about the number of participants because participants still need to do a good job.

Giese said speech coach John Kleinwolterwink pushed team members to practice at least once a week. Giese participated in discussion and Morris Area High School graduate Jacob Grunklee moved back to the area and helped to coach the discussion teams, Giese said. The Chokio-Alberta school speech coach also helped with Morris Area members. The extra coaching helped the team, Giese said.

Johnson said finds practicing alone more productive than with the team but it helped this year to know that Kleinwolterink really cared about the team.

Bransel said she herself worked hard this year. Yet, the overall team is talented.

Speech has been a good choice for them, Johnson, Bransel and Giese said.

"I really like speech meets because you get to hang out with people who have similar interests," Bransel said.

Giese and Johnson agreed about speech meets. They've met people they wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for speech.

While performing in front of others is something other people don't want to do, these speech team members like it.

"I love performing in the final rounds when you get large crowds," Johnson said. "I really like doing speeches. It's an opportunity for audience interaction." The audience may not be verbally interacting with him but Johnson said a speech performance is a lot like a conversation with the audience because he can see them responding to the speech.

"For me, speech is an opportunity to express myself," Johnson said.

"I like performing. It's fun to get up in front of a crowd of people," Bransel said.

Giese said participating in group discussion is not the same as performing a poem, poetry or another piece in front of an audience. "I had struggled with presentations in front of people," Giese said. "Discussion has helped build my confidence."

Becoming comfortable talking and sharing with others is a skill Giese said he will use in the future.

And that's another benefit of speech, the team members said.

They've become increasingly confident presenting and talking in front of others, the team members said.

Even when a speech presentation doesn't go well, it's part of the overall valuable learning experience.

"You learn how to accept defeat and bounce back," Giese said.

Johnson said speech taught him humility and to know that he won't always be the best performer in a particular category.