Speakers’ Tourney yields lasting fruit
August 10th, 2018 / By: Kaylan Preuss | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
ARLINGTON “The Speakers’ Tournament has been a reality check for me. It holds me accountable. And after people have heard your speech—the people who look up to you—they expect you to live by it.”
This account came from Kailyn Newsom, a recent high school graduate and member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.
The “reality check” she talks about is the Speakers’ Tournament, an annual competition hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for students in grades 10-12 who deliver speeches four to six minutes long on biblical topics provided by the SBTC. This year’s state competition was in mid-April.
The program exists so students can mature in their faith, share God’s Word with others, become skilled and comfortable with public speaking and earn college scholarships (for those who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the state levels).
Each fall, students begin the challenge by picking topics, developing outlines and writing their speeches. Over the winter, in the company of coaches, they refine, memorize and practice. By spring, they’re ready to present to their churches and associations with the hopes of advancing to regional, state and even national competitions.
Mark Haire, a speakers’ coach at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, said students choose from a list of 10 topics per year.
“The idea is for them to pick something that’s biblically related—usually having to do with spiritual disciplines or how to engage the culture—and drive them to wrestle with the verses they choose in order to formulate a coherent speech. It becomes life-impacting for them,” Haire said.
In the past, topics have ranged from “Being Christian in a Pagan World” and “The Christian Life Is Not a Popularity Contest” to “Acting My Age” and “The Greatest Spiritual Lesson I’ve Learned So Far.” Some students choose to take an inspirational approach, while others present in an argumentative format.
Haire said, “A lot of times students will select a historical figure—like a martyr, great missionary or notable speaker—and use that as their inspiration.”
The whole experience is more than just memorizing a script; it’s also practicing to make perfect a powerful delivery, refining the composition, working on vocal inflection and eliminating verbal tics.
“I tell our speakers that one of the most powerful things they can do in their culture is to become effective public speakers,” Haire said. “The skill is rare, so it will set them apart. This program is a hard sell to this teenage culture, but it’s impactful for those who do participate. They can go and have tremendous influence in their churches, jobs and families. My own kids have grown up to see the value in it.”
Rickey Wilson, an elder and tournament preparation leader at Cornerstone in Arlington, assembles a team of up to 20 students each year. He’s been involved with the ministry in his church for more than 20 years, since his own daughter was a speaker.
During that time, he’s seen the age of social media emerge and spread among teenagers, causing a shortage of face-to-face and verbal communication. Being glued to a phone may seem like a hindrance, but Wilson says students are still interested in what the program is about.
“We try to connect with them and encourage them to have an encounter with God during the process,” he said. “They gain a unique skill set. It prepares them for college presentations, but also to share the gospel with others. Our former kids come back and let us know how valuable it was for them.”
According to Cornerstone’s Newsom, the Speakers’ Tournament was a spiritually transformative experience. She’s done Bible Drill for years, but she says God used the speakers’ competition to encourage her in very specific life lessons at the right times. “Every year, when it was time to pick a topic, the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘That’s the one.’ Little did I know how it would impact me later,” she said.
During her junior year, Newsom was a track star headed for the varsity team. Then she sustained a hip injury that doctors couldn’t put a finger on. She said, “All I’d known was track. It’s what people knew me for. When I stopped doing that, I didn’t have a purpose.”
That year, the topic she chose was “Having Peace in a Troubled World.” Newsom found a new purpose in writing and speaking in front of people. As she waited for her hip to heal, she also began writing poetry, doing debate, and started a Christian club at her high school called Awaken.
This past year, she picked the topic “True Love Waits.” She memorized the verses and dug deep into the topic so that it was engrained in her.
“I’ve never had a boyfriend before and didn’t when I chose the topic, but I just recently started dating someone,” she said. “I had heard about the struggle, but I didn’t know the struggle was that real. I’ve been able to go back to what I wrote and learned, to call upon the verses in my speech and be encouraged toward purity.”
Newsom says she’s learned how to hide God’s Word in her heart over the last few years because of the Speakers’ competition. This fall, she’s headed to the University of Texas in Austin to study communications, and where she hopes to use what she’s gained thus far.
“Through this ministry and these speeches, Scripture gets into the hearts of these students,” Wilson said. “They’re not just saying words; their hearts are affected and they minister to others who need to hear God’s Word.”
Karen Kennemur, SBTC children’s ministry associate, agrees that the Speaker’s Tournament helps students prepare for college. “The time spent in speech preparation requires digging into the Scriptures and researching topics,” she said. “It improves writing skills and enhances public speaking abilities.”
In addition to giving students opportunities to compete for college scholarships at the state and national levels, she said the SBTC pays for the winning student and one parent to attend the national tournament.
Next year’s regional competition occurs April 5-6 at First Baptist Church in Euless and April 12-13 at Spring Baptist Church near Houston and First Baptist Church in Odessa. Winners progress to state competition April 27 at the SBTC offices in Grapevine.