Let’s be honest for a second.

From an early age, most people know what basketball is. Even once we’re three or four years old, a majority of kids are already shooting hoops in their driveway. The sport’s overexposure in our society leads to many youngsters joining a team as soon as possible, with many of them ecstatic when they finally get the chance. Yet, how many elementary students aspire to wake up at 5 a.m. on Saturday to wear a suit and speak in front of an audience?

I’ll give you a hint: not many. While kids watch football, baseball, and basketball on their television screens daily, speech is an extracurricular that kind of seems like a cult from an outsider’s perspective. I mean, what’s so appealing about cramming a classroom full of nerdy high schoolers and having them talk for 10 minutes?

Well, it’s actually much more than that. When I was in eighth grade, I pretty much thought the same thing. I knew there were people at my school that did speech, but it’s not like I knew what it was. I was too busy sitting on the bench at basketball practice to figure out what it was all about. Later on that year, I was given the opportunity to attend a speech camp put on by our school’s coach, Mrs. Meyer (who is amazing, I might add). A few of my other friends were going, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

From the very first day I was on the team, I was told to “drink the Kool-Aid.” At first, I figured they were trying to win us over by making a Jonestown reference. Instead, they were literally telling us to grab a Kool-Aid Jammer and get to work. Unlike other extracurriculars, where you’re meant to be healthy, the speech diet consists of juice pouches and scotcheroos.

That year at camp, I did humorous prose, an event where you have 10 minutes to make others laugh with a fictional script. It was a silly little piece about a genie on a beach. I took it to one meet, didn’t place, and that was that. Camp was over, and I could go back to my regularly scheduled business. A year later, when I was given the chance to join the actual team, I figured I’d give it another go.

This time around, my experience was nothing like the little middle school camp. Practice was three nights a week from December to March, my Saturdays were no longer open, and the competition was a lot fiercer. Despite all of this, I wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge. I’ve never been one to back down when the going gets tough, so I was ready to face whatever this activity threw at me.

Most outsiders don’t understand this, but speech has a plethora of different events, very similar to track and field in a way. At most meets, you have nine events you can choose from: humorous, serious, poetry, OID, duet, persuasive, inform, entertainment, and extemporaneous. Each contest is unique in their own way, and obligates the speaker to follow specific guidelines. Some involve reading from a script, while others require original, written dialogue. A few events require multiple people to participate, and the rest are individual ventures. Almost all of them are to be prepared ahead of time, but there is one outlier to this rule.

Extemporaneous speaking is a contest where one is given a political topic regarding either domestic or foreign conflicts, and is then asked to write a speech about the prompt in an hour or less. This was the first event I truly fell in love with. I’m a quick thinker, a fluent writer, and a news junkie, so extemp was right up my alley. At my inaugural meet, I actually won the novice division. This was the first of many medals I’d earn through speech.

Three years down the line and I’m still head over heels for this extracurricular. I know it’s not very appealing to most people, but here’s the reason why it’s important. No matter what your occupation is later in life, you’ll always have to speak to people. Most 40-year-olds aren’t shooting free throws, swinging in the batting cage, or perfecting their form tackles. Speech isn’t just an extracurricular activity. It’s a life skill.

This season, I’m competing in three events, as well as serving as an officer and running the team’s social media accounts. My Saturdays are anything but relaxing, and to say it’s a little stressful is a bit of an understatement. Yet, I don’t mind. If not for this extracurricular, I wouldn’t be who I am today. In most cases, “drinking the Kool-Aid” isn’t the best decision. However, if we’re talking about the speech team, then take it from me. These Tropical Punch Jammers are pretty amazing.

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