Byron High School's Alex Long is honored at the state speech competition fresh off his first-place finish in the extemporaneous reading category. Photo submitted.
By David Richards
For the first time in school history, Byron High School has a state speech champion.
Junior Alex Long beat out the other seven state finalists in the extemporaneous reading category during the April 19-20 competition at Blaine High School.
Byron's speech program has been active since 1975.
"I'm amazed," Long said about being the first state champion here.
"We've had a lot of good people go through the program."
Those people include Kate Flinchbaugh, who finished in second place as a senior in the serious drama category in 2011. She was a five-time state qualifier.
There are 13 categories in speech overall, and Long said he was drawn to his because there is no memorization involved.
It starts first and foremost with the voice.
"You have to have a really good reading voice," said Long, who played Jud Fry in the drama department's spring production of "Oklahoma." "You have to emphasize and give pauses where there needs to be. And while you're reading off a page, you also want to make eye contact, which is challenging."
Long reached the state tournament after competing in both the subsection and section competitions.
In extemporaneous reading, you randomly draw three different passages and then choose one of those to read.
For the final round at state, one of Long's three selections, was ""The Ravine" by Ray Bradbury.
"I had read it before, but not a lot," Long said. "But I liked it because it had a lot of descriptive words, and you can emphasize those, and it's really dramatic and suspenseful."
When Long was finished, he knew he did well, and figured he'd place fourth or fifth, which is excellent among the state's best.
But Brooke Bordelon, Byron's assistant speech coach, knew he did better.
"She told me that if he didn't get first, he would get second," said Byron's speech coach Pam Tvedt, who couldn't watch Long's final performance because she was working another category.
The results were read backward, from eighth place to first and the names for fifth, then fourth came and went.
"I was thinking, 'well, I'm going to ride this thing out,' " Long said. "Then I got more nervous, and I was wearing a suit, so it was really hot up on stage. When I heard the second place name called, I heard the gasps of my parents and the other students."
"To have someone bring home a state championship is a unique experience," Tvedt said. "And something that he deserves."
Four other Byron speech students qualified for state.
Junior Margaret Silhasek competed in the Informative Speaking category.
"Margaret has been in Informative Speaking her whole career," Tvedt said. "She just keeps getting better."
Senior Henry Hartzler qualified in the Humorous Interpretation category.
"He's kind of a rare bird in that he's a six-year veteran of speech," Tvedt said. "He also went to state as a sophomore and has competed in four different categories."
Seniors Andy Lawrence and Allie Krings qualified in Duo Interpretation, making their third state appearance in a row in the category.
"They have remarkable timing," Tvedt said. "In Duo, you can choose serious or humorous, and they chose humorous. They work well off each other."
As for Long, he'll get another shot at a state championship next year.
"Alex has a very mellow and expressive voice, and we knew his voice was quite a gift," Tvedt said. "He certainly has learned how to use it.