KEARNEY —"It's like a cathartic release," Anne Martinez, a speech club student of Grand Island Senior High School said. She's both excited and terrified for this week: The Nebraska School Activities Association State Speech Championships began Wednesday. 

For a few students, even qualifying was historic. Grand Island Public Schools' Anne Martinez is one of the team’s seven competitors this year — marking a record since 2006.

She told NCN her main emotion right now is pure joy. She enjoys being able to express the emotions of her immigrant family and what they went through to others and feel understood. "Sometimes the audience tells me kind things," she said happily. 

The contest dates back to 1974, and though not as popular as some sports, it usually gains a large crowd.

...Not this year though. Most, though not all, of the contest classes competed virtually on Zoom platforms. 

This online medium poses an extra challenge. 

"It completely changes the game," said Johnathan Boyd, head speech coach at Grand Island. He noted that he's had to teach students some technical methods like clearing their cache, and also how to be personal through a screen. 

His student, 11th grader Bailey Brooks, said he's learned you have to be extra dramatic on-screen to portray a stage presence.

Brooks enjoys the activity because it teaches him life skills.

"I had an intense fear of speaking but [...] You get a lot more confident with what you're saying and how you're saying it," he said.

Little by little, public speaking can empower a person and become much more than a sport.

Final Results: