PEORIA- Hundreds of students filled Peoria's Civic Center Saturday, for what some would describe as this activity's "March Madness;" it's the finals of the Illinois High School Association Speech Tournament.
Students across the state were warming up for the final rounds. They are judged on speaking style, energy, and even eye contact with their audience. Students travel for hours to compete, like Tommi Poe from Benton, Illinois.
"My favorite part is probably just experiencing all the really good people and getting to watch all the events," Poe said.
The categories range from straight speeches, to dramatic duet acting and even prose reading.
"Then there's impromptu, where they give you a topic and you have to come up with an entire speech in like two and a half minutes. It's really impressive to watch," Poe said.
Madison Oakley from Normal University High School said she was a little nervous, but very excited as she walked in to compete for one of the last times in her high school career.
"I was here last year in poetry and I was one point away from breaking the finals. So it's kind of a big deal to be here. I'm pretty excited," Oakley said.
The Civic Center was full of the buzz of students prepping, excitement and nerves. One coach said the build up up to this event makes for an riveting competition.
"It's a state tournament it's a huge deal. It's a great honor to be recognized by your coaches and your peers for all your hard work," said Downers Grove South coach, Julie Schwarz.
More than 700 students and coaches came from 76 different schools, but what they can come away with is much more than just 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. Poe said it's conquering a wide spread fear of public speaking.
"You just get a lot of life experience in getting to talk to people, because a lot of people can't do that," she said.
IHSA's assistant executive director, Susan Knoblauch, said involvement in speech events helps kids go far.
"Research indicates that students who are involved in interscholastic sports and activities are better students, have higher GPA's and actually beyond school are the leaders in their communities," Knoblauch said.
This is the fourth consecutive year that Peoria has hosted this speech tournament, and it's a lot of students for the River City to host!
IHSA says over the course of the weekend, teams fill about 350 hotel rooms and spend more than $120,000 in Peoria.
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