My story begins in an auspicious hallway deep inside the walls of Valley City High School, ND. While trying to escape study hall with the amateur excuse of “I need to go to the bathroom” during my junior year, I was cornered by the decorated high school speech coach, Mrs. Sherry Langdahl. She asked me if I would fill in for a humorous duo due to illness. She promised it would only be for 1 week and I could resume my offseason cross country training the following week. As I look back, that is the day SPEAK2compete was born and the PROCESS began.
My first tournament took place on a frigid December day on the campus of North Dakota State University. After getting my script on Monday and competing five days later, my partner and I managed to place 5th. Oh and Mrs. Langdhal was back at it using her persuasive skills convincing me to stick around for one more week. The following Saturday the bus rolled out at 4:30am for Devils Lake, ND. I still remember the frost on the inside of the bus, the changing in the men’s bathroom, which did not fit my high maintenance style, and the talking to the walls……all before 8 am on a Saturday! This particular Saturday is the day I learned how to SPEAK2compete. I placed first and automatically qualified for the state tournament. I was hooked, for life! As luck would have it, we dueled with my girlfriend at the time and her sister throughout the season all the way to the state tournament final round. I was fortunate to become a Humorous Duo State Champion besting my girlfriend and her sister, but most importantly we brought home the program’s second consecutive team State Championship!
Sherry and Jim's legacy is not defined by their competitive success, but the values of hard work, excellence, commitment, accountability, trust, and preparation instilled on a daily basis…the PROCESS. They are the reason I continue to make speech my vocation and a significant reason why the summer speech and coaching institutes were launched.
I took the stage for the final time as a VCHS student in Minot, ND at the state tournament, but I was not ready to be done with the activity. I received a speech scholarship to attend the University of Mary under the tutelage of Jaime P. Myer. Jaime introduced me to my love of Oratory and the Interstate Oratorical Association National Contest. He taught me to dream big, circumstances do not control you, to be proud of where you come from, and winning is born from a set of educational principles. Because of Jaime’s teachings, I was the first and only U of Mary student to place at the AFA-NIET and Interstate Oratory National Tournaments. Most importantly, Jaime encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in communication studies, a degree I never thought was obtainable or deserving of earning.
Jaime introduced me to the legendary South Dakota State University Director of Forensics, professor Joel Hefling. As a college sophomore, my Interpersonal Communication professor charged the class with identifying and interviewing someone we thought is famous. I enthusiastically chose Joel Hefling. I interviewed Joel in the AFA-NIET tab room, which felt like the Oval Office. At the conclusion of our interview, he uttered words that changed my life forever, saying, “You know we have a graduate program.” Joel made me realize I was smart enough to earn a master’s degree, an accomplishment that was foreign to my family. Had he not reached out and befriended me, I am convinced I would not have become a professor and DOF. His offspring are everywhere in this activity, causing many of us to refer to ourselves as disciples serving “our Lord”, Joel Hefling. It was an honor to serve as his graduate assistant for two years, and I can honestly say it was the most transformative years of my life. Those that know me well are aware of the influence my father has had on my life, but I consider Joel to be my second father, having influenced my life in many of the same ways. Joel taught me that speech and the classroom can be the vehicle to change the trajectory of someone’s life, and speech coaches are not coaches, we are educators. Speech is the laboratory we use to teach how to WIN at life.
Sherry, Jim, Jaime, and Joel taught their students to give back, and SPEAK2compete is the result of their legacy, their passion for teaching, and their life lessons taught that need to passed on to the next generation of competitors.