Although the Minnesota Speech season is only a few weeks old, sophomore Jack Ellis has already set a new record for the Orono Spartans: he is the first student in school history to qualify for a national tournament. Ellis qualified for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions on Feb. 2 in the category of "Humorous Interpretation."
“Jack is a leader," Katie Stanley, a seventh-grade English teacher at Orono and Jack’s humorous interpretation coach. "He helps me with the younger kids on the team and he teaches them things that he already knows,. He’s a like a mini coach to them.”
Ellis qualified in humorous interpretation through the bid process. The NIETOC Board of Directors have set up three ways that students can qualify for their tournaments.
Through the bid process competitors have to place in the top 15 percent of the tournament in which they attend after the tournament is approved to be a NIETOC qualifier.
Students can also qualify for NIETOC by placing high in their state tournament as well as being a finalist at other national tournaments. Last, students can qualify at-large, by “earning three ‘legs’ that accumulate to a total ranking of 10 or less.”
Ellis holds other speech records. He is the first person to make it past preliminary rounds at the National Forensic League Central Minnesota Division Qualifying Tournament. Ellis made it to the semi-final round last year, but he hopes to go even further this year.
“My goal is to make it to the final round,” said Ellis, “Orono has never had anyone go to NFL Nationals, easily the best tournament in the country, and I want to be the first.”
Jack competes in Humorous Interpretation, Serious Interpretation of Prose (or Dramatic Interpretation) and Extemporaneous Reading. For his first two categories, Jack, with the help of his coaches, will take a piece of literature and cut it down to about 10 minutes and perform it completely memorized—“popping” or changing between characters to tell the story.
“It is not an easy thing to do,” said Ellis.
Jack says that he spends about 15-20 hours on speech each week, doing anything from researching and practicing to competing and looking for new materials.
Jack’s humorous interpretation piece is called "Safety First," which is written by Tory Isaac. The piece is about two fifth graders whose parents send them to safety patrol camp.
“I love performing my HI and it is so much fun," Jack said. "I think that the audience loves it too.”
Ellis is also trying to qualify via the at-large option in dramatic interpretation with his prose called "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl." Written by Jesse Andrews, this piece is about a 17-year-old boy whose only friend gets leukemia.
“It is so moving, and I have fallen in love with the piece and the characters," Jack said. "I think it will do very well this season, but I can only hope and work hard.”
Ellis recently took home 1st place in Humorous Interpretation and 2nd place in Serious Interpretation of Prose at the St. Francis Invitational. Jack and the Orono Spartan Traveling Speech Team will be traveling to The Harvard Speech and Debate Invitational in Boston this weekend.
Editor's note: Sydney Reiers is a student at Orono High School.