2013-03-06 / Family

Matoaca senior takes top award for public speaking

By Jim McConnell

Matoaca High School senior Nick Rundlett is the first student in the school’s history to qualify for Virginia’s public high school forensics competition, a test of verbal argu- mentation and advocacy abilities. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Matoaca High School senior Nick Rundlett is the first student in the school’s history to qualify for Virginia’s public high school forensics competition, a test of verbal argu- mentation and advocacy abilities. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer In a split-second, Matoaca High School senior Nick Rundlett went from being a quick thinker to someone who didn’t quite know what to think.

Rundlett was so stunned to hear his name announced as the grand champion in impromptu speaking at the Virginia High School League’s regional forensics competition, his brain went into sensory overload.

“I couldn’t stop laughing,” Rundlett recalled. “I was just so confused and excited.”

Beaming, Rundlett took what he described as a “weird detour” before he finally made his way up the steps and collected his medal.

Rundlett’s surprise was both genuine and understandable.

He is the first Matoaca High student ever to qualify for the state forensics competition – which tests students’ skills in public discourse, argumentation and advocacy – and he was an improbable candidate for the contest.

Rundlett, who hopes to launch a career as a voice actor after graduation, registered for a speech and communication class as a senior to gain experience in public speaking. That’s where he first met Jana Farrell, leader of both Matoaca High’s theater department and its forensics program.

Farrell, who just started teaching the communication class during the 2012-13 school year, was immediately impressed by Rundlett’s presence and delivery. She thought his skills were a perfect match for impromptu speaking and suggested that he participate in competitive forensics.

“Nick is a smart kid and a quick thinker,” Farrell said. “It’s definitely a skill some kids have and some don’t. You can get better at it with practice, but it’s pretty much one of those things where either you have it or you don’t.”

Rundlett seemed an unlikely candidate for such an activity. An introvert by nature, he mostly kept to himself during his first three years of high school. He hadn’t joined any clubs or teams and had no plans to do so.

But he thought an extracurricular activity would look good on his college resume, so he agreed to enter the Dominion District forensics competition last month at Clover Hill High School.

Rundlett, the lone member of Matoaca’s forensics team this season, practiced twice with Farrell prior to the event. She first explained the rules for his particular event, in which competitors are given a topic, one 2-by-3-inch note card and seven minutes to both prepare and deliver an impromptu speech.

Farrell also identified some subjects for him to research. One of those content areas – pop culture – quickly became relevant when Rundlett was assigned to speak on the cultural significance of Gangnam Style in the first round of the district competition.

Rundlett thought he was ready to go, but midway through his speech, his mind suddenly went blank. He struggled and stammered for about 15 seconds, then recovered just well enough to place fifth out of six entrants in his category.

“My mind was swimming,” he recalled. “I knew I had to do much better in the second round.”

After a brief pep talk from Farrell, Rundlett did just that. His speech on gun control earned high marks from every judge and was enough to secure the last of the district’s three berths in the regional competition.

Rundlett’s ability to perform under pressure convinced Farrell that he had the ability to hold his own with the best in the Central Region.

“He knew intellectually what he needed to do,” she said. “He just had to bring it.”

Rundlett carried modest expectations into regionals. He hoped to finish among the top three competitors in the 12-person event but would’ve been satisfied by placing among the top six.

When the judges announced the fourth- and third-place finishers and then the second-place winner, Rundlett felt his hopes fade. He never imagined that they’d be calling his name next.

“We were freaking out,” Farrell said. “For him to win first place was amazing. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

It is also a special memory for Rundlett’s mother, Sheila, who captured Nick’s medal presentation on video.

“I don’t think it was something many people could’ve pulled off,” she said. “I think he impressed himself. At first he was doing it just to see how well he could do. Now that he’s discovered he’s good at it, I think he knows he has a chance to win and he’s going to work hard to do it.”

Rundlett is the first Matoaca High student in the school’s history to qualify for the state competition, which will be held March 23 in Harrisonburg. “I’m really curious to see how I’ll do,” he said. “For some reason, I just have a natural talent for this.”

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