Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 014

I Don’t Have A Fantasy Team – By Ben Clemmer.

After this past weekend, I found myself thinking about the NFL. The competitive drive is amazing. The amount of planning and strategy that goes into performing at a high level is inspiring. The speeches get you pumped for what comes next. All of these reasons are part of why I enjoyed competing in it.

Yes. I competed in the NFL.

I competed in the National Forensics League.

I’ve got speech team on the brain this week and I’ll explain why shortly, but I should first provide some context. When I was a competitor at Bishop Dwenger High School, I kept my competitive focus pretty clear. If things went poorly at a tournament, I would figure out what I needed to improve to be better next time and then forget everything else. Reliving past mistakes wasn’t going to be helpful. If I won a tournament, I tried to remember everything. Every detail of the day got wrapped into a happy memory that could also provide a roadmap for future success.

I think in documents, so as a competitor I kept track of my own wins as well as wins for the team at the time. We were a small team punching above our weight class with great regularity, so the wins weren’t many, but I was glad to keep track of the moments when anyone on the Dwenger roster could say, “I was the best that day.”

Arguably this was something that would never be helpful to anyone and was just a fun hobby for me. I was a fan of the team I used to compete for and that was the extent of the investment.

That changed when I became assistant coach of the team.

Chad Chenowith was the assistant coach when I was a competitor. Now I was his assistant and over the course of those first two years together, we turned a small team on the rise into the powerhouse program of northeast Indiana. I kept keeping track of the varsity wins for competitors and greatly enjoyed that it was starting to take me longer to update my lists because of how successful the team was. 

Chad let me post a graph of our team’s top ten in his classroom. We never made a big deal out of it. There were probably some students who never knew the list was there and that I was keeping track of the successes. But for a few competitors who were having great success already, realizing the individual numbers they could put up caused them to reach for another gear. 

That’s something I’ve always loved about speech competition. It’s called a speech team, but the team earns points based on how individuals do in their own categories. One bad performance isn’t going to derail an entire team on a trajectory of success. Recalling my own career, you can make a mark as an individual even if the team you’re on is too small to place in the top five at a tournament. That emphasis on individual success within the context that it would make the team better, made it so our students wanted to constantly work at getting better. It was their success. They took ownership of it.

And the numbers reflected that.

One of our students, who was a freshman my first year as an assistant, established himself as our team’s all time leading scorer. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but here’s some numbers for comparison. I won eight varsity tournaments before I graduated and that was high for most competitors, especially when factoring in the number of tournaments we attended at the time. Dwenger’s all time leading scorer graduated with 26 career wins. The next closest student whose total is even close to the same zip code graduated with 16.

My eight varsity wins in the discussion event were eventually surpassed as well. A student I coached broke my record, and while this was after I had stepped down from my coaching position in 2018, I was at the tournament as a chaperone for three seniors competing that day. The proud former coach is on the right side of this group picture taken after the day of competition. The record holder who surpassed me is on the left. We had three contestants who at the most could win the four categories they were entered in and we won all four. It was a good day.

So why am I thinking about all of this right now? Well, this past Saturday there was a virtual speech tournament held and one of Dwenger’s juniors won two categories at a single tournament. This jumped her up from nine wins to 11, and while our all time leading scorer may be uncatchable, the pace she’s on could easily put her in the second spot on our leaderboard by the time she graduates.

As a former coach, a current volunteer, and a chronicler of the team’s success, I am rooting hard for her.

And oh yeah, there was a football game over the weekend. To quote one of the friends of the Storytelling Breakdown podcast, “when did Tom Brady get his own team?”

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