When I began my freshman year in high school, and was deciding which clubs I wanted to join (being a social kid, I was excited to join stuff!) the two clubs that interested me most were (1) Masque and Gavel, which was the drama club, and (2) the speech club, that was part of a national organization called the National Forensic League.
I was immediately charmed by the name of the drama club. “Masque and Gavel” sounded so . . . sophisticated . . . to my 14 year old ear. I could envision telling people I was a member of Masque and Gavel and it raising their opinion of my gawky, immature self . . . Obviously, this is a very sophisticated 14 year old, I imagined they would think.
On the other hand, the name of the speech club was not quite as charming.
For one thing, National Forensic League!? Didn’t that have something to do with dead bodies? Somehow (and there definitely weren’t any TV shows like CSI then) that word put me in mind of murder investigations. But, here are two definitions from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary that clear that up:
forensic medicine: a science that deals with the relation and application of medical facts to legal problems. (This must be the reason it made me think of dead bodies, as in medical witnesses at murder trials on Perry Mason.)
forensic: an argumentative exercise; the art or study of argumentative discourse. (If I’d even read this definition I probably wouldn’t have joined, because I definitely wasn’t interested in “argumentative discourse” . . . I wanted to be funny!)
Apparently this group had started as a debating society and then evolved into a more general speech society.
And, secondly. Because no one went around routinely saying, “Yes, I belong to the National Forensic League.”, for the rest of my high school career, I belonged to the NFL, which came up in conversation occasionally. “Ha, ha. No, I’ve never thought about the initials being the same as the football league. Glad you pointed that out.” (You, and ten million others.)
So one day after school early in our freshman year, my friend Karen and I went to see Mr. May, the infamously surly speech and drama coach, to ask what we had to do to join the speech team. (We tried out for the drama club too, but just as its name sounded, its membership was very exclusive. Very few freshmen passed the try-out and were invited to join. We were no exception. We didn’t get “invited” until our sophomore year.)
Let me just say here that by the end of high scool Mr. May had become my all-time favorite teacher/coach. He was tough, but even a teenager can tell when a teacher not only knows his stuff, but holds students to a high standard because he really cares whether they succeed.
But when Karen and I walked into his classroom as green freshmen, we were scared to death because he was a very grumpy-looking older man, who spoke very concisely, and looked over the top of his glasses at everyone else as if he expected you to do the same! And, we had heard about how ruthless he could be in his criticism if you made a mistake.
Because of all this, we were soooo nervous to actually talk to this teacher whom we had heard such “horror stories” about, that we were at our worst — we giggled and constantly shifted from one foot to the other, and tightened the scarves tied around our pony tails and pulled up our socks, while alternately stammering and babbling, all while on the verge of tears. Charming. But, this is a man who had dealt with many giggly, nervous teenage girls before us, so apparently he was able to look past all that and see that we might actually be able to do public speaking! Bless his heart.
When we finally calmed down enough to let him speak, he asked us which of the categories we wanted to participate in. And we answered immediately . . . we wanted to compete in Humor . . . we wanted to be funny! And, apparently we were funny, because he immediately guffawed (his version of a laugh). He told us that almost everyone wanted to do Humor; he had plenty of members to compete in that category, so he really didn’t have a place for us. We were dejected. No room for us to be funny. So sad. But, as we hung our heads and started to leave the room, he called after us, “Of course, we have other categories where we need people. Maybe you could do one of those.” Well, we really wanted to be funny, but we really did think it would be fun to join the speech team too. So, we returned to his desk ready to listen to what other fun categories might need us.
Now, I don’t know if Mr. May was a fisherman in his off time, but I’m telling you he was a fisherman at heart, because he reeled in two teenage girls like you would big mouth bass (pun intended) for a category that he had alot of trouble filling — Poetry Reading! Yuck. I didn’t know much about poetry, but Poetry Reading sounded dry as dirt!
Maybe Mr. May had been a basketball player too, because he was also very good at the “full court press.” Now that he had dangled membership in a”fun” organization like NFL in front of us, only requiring that we recite a few poems, and we hadn’t run screaming from the room, he pressed his advantage, and added an additional enticement — it was an easy category to win ribbons in, because there weren’t nearly as many competitors as in the more popular categories, like Humor. And, when we still waivered, he threw in the final big, juicy piece of “bait” — being a member of the NFL would definitely help us get into Masque and Gavel when we tried out next year!
Hmmm. We liked the idea of being ribbon winners, and we did like the idea of competing against other schools in speech meets, and we reallllly wanted to become members of the “elite” Masque and Gavel next year. So, maybe we would give this poetry reading a try.
Congratulations, Mr. May. Mission accomplished. You had two “volunteers” for your poetry reading team (btw, we soon found out we were the only members of the poetry reading team).
Tomorrow: The Reluctant Poetry Reader