Steamboat Springs Public speaking is consistently rated as the No. 1 fear for most Americans, but don't tell that to the Steamboat Springs High School speech team.
These 14 students have made a habit of performing in front of complete strangers -- and they like it.
"It's a lot of fun, and it's a good excuse to get out of town," senior Megan Mistr said.
The team held its first home tournament of the year Saturday, when 10 teams participated in 12 events at the all-day invitational.
Even though the school was packed with participants, judges and spectators, misconceptions abound with competitive speaking.
"(People) think of it more as debate," Mistr said. "They don't realize there are tons of events to choose from."
Categories of speech include dramatic interpretation, controversy, Lincoln-Douglas debate, humorous interpretation, poetic interpretation and original oratory, among others.
Mistr said she prefers extemporaneous speaking, where competitors are asked to select three current topics, choose one, and use their team's up-to-date news files to compile a seven-minute speech in a half-hour.
"Can Brazil stabilize its economy?" was one possible topic in the foreign "extemp" category at Saturday's tournament.
Mistr said she likes the randomness of the extemporaneous events, not to mention other benefits.
"It helps with school because I can keep up with current events and know what I'm talking about," she said.
Senior Beth Ludwig is a four-year speech team member who specializes in humorous interpretation.
"I like to create different characters and a lot of different faces and voices," Ludwig said. "They all seem to come out (when performing)."
Though stand-up routines aren't in her immediate future, Ludwig said her performances bear a lot of resemblance to live comedy.
"It's like being a comedian in the club," she said. "You have good nights and you have bad nights. But when you have a good night, it's like nothing else in the world. It's great."
The speech team is coached by husband and wife duo of Marty and Shauna Lamansky, or "M.L. and Mrs." as the team refers to them.
The team is made up of all kinds of personalities, Marty Lamansky said. Some kids start out shy and gradually open up, some are experienced thespians looking for another avenue to perform and some "just like to argue," he said.
But competitiveness, commitment and self-discipline are traits shared by all 14 team members, he said.
The speech season starts with practices in October and ends with a tournament in April. Marty and Shauna provide individual advice and critiques throughout the year as the students refine their acts and hone their techniques.
The result, ideally, is a first-place finish for each member of the team. Regardless of personal achievements, participating in speech teaches essential skills for success, Marty Lamansky said.
"It offers them the chance to be confident," he said. "It also offers them a chance to learn skills like analysis and to meet kids from around the state in a competitive setting."
Most tournaments are held at Front Range schools, so a lot of travel is required.
Host schools are obligated to provide and train volunteer judges, as well as prepare classrooms for competition.
The team spent much of the week preparing for the tournament, and all 14 members spent at least half of Saturday's invitational working, not competing.
The work is worth it, especially if it results in recruits, Mistr said.
"The good thing about hosting a tournament is that it lets other kids see how much fun speech can be," she said.