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Lake Country Faces: Rock feels right at home on speech team

Courtney Rock displays her medals from high school speech competitions Tuesday, Oct. 2. This will be Rock's sixth year with the Pequot Lakes speech team. (Click on the image to see the entire photo.) Erin Bormett / Echo Journal 1 / 2
The Pequot Lakes speech team poses with its 2018 Subsection 23A Champion trophy last spring. Courtney Rock earned a seventh-place prize for her extemporaneous reading performance. Submitted Photo 2 / 2

For six years, Courtney Rock has used teammates, coaches, friends and even blank walls as stand-ins for an audience when preparing her speech performances for competition. As a result of all that hard work and dedication, Rock holds a first-place ranking statewide and second place in the nation for her prose reading.

"You get up in front of the room, and it's like every nerve relaxes in your body," said Rock, a Pequot Lakes High School senior. "You're just like, 'This is my natural habitat now.'"

In sixth grade, Rock joined the middle-level speech team at school. She said the director of the middle school play encouraged her to check out the speech team as well. Despite practice being held in the library that "smelled like old books," Rock said, she showed up every day for practice.

"I loved that I could act and perform in front of walls instead of people," said Rock.

This is a common way for speech competitors to practice before a meet - talking to walls allows speakers to focus on their performance without the pressures of an audience.

Speech quickly became Rock's favorite extracurricular activity, and she continued with the team until she was eligible for a National Forensics League membership in eighth grade. She then began earning points for participating in speech and debate activities, such as regional and state competitions.

Going into her senior year, Rock has racked up a total of 419 points in the prose category alone, putting her in the lead statewide by 92 points.

Rock dabbled in several speech categories throughout her years of competition, including extemporaneous speaking and duo interpretation. However, she still performs prose reading every year, even double-entering in multiple categories when necessary.

"I love reading," said Rock. "Reading has always been one of my hobbies, one of my escapes."

Rock chose to compete in prose because it transports her deeper into the story. She becomes the characters she reads about.

Rock's first performances kept to lighter subject matter, but she challenged herself with more dramatic readings as time went on. She has played a person struck by lightning, a foal attacked by a cougar and a young woman dreaming of ways to kill her father.

"I get to walk in another person's shoes for 10 minutes," said Rock. "Though it seems like 1,000 hours at the end of the season."

Angie Klein, the head speech coach at Pequot Lakes, said she is grateful for the leadership Rock provides on the team.

"Courtney is passionate about speech," Klein said. "She is a real asset to our program, and does an excellent job recruiting new members as well as mentoring the underclassmen on our team."

The speech team has become a second family to Rock. She remembers teammates being "moms" to each other before important meets, fixing hair and making sure everyone is at their best.

There was one season Rock considered going out for softball instead of the speech team, but she said what made her stay was the people she would miss.

"I don't know why I thought I'd be OK without this in my life," said Rock. "Speech never really leaves you, it always draws you back in."

Although the initial suggestion to join speech came from the middle school drama director, Rock's family shares her love for public speaking. Her father speaks regularly at Trout Lake Camps, a Christian camp and retreat center the family owns; her brother joined high school speech for two years; and her mother is the head coach of the middle-level speech team at Pequot Lakes, where Rock sometimes acts as a peer coach.

Rock said she definitely needed her family to give her a push sometimes. "(My mom) walked into practice the first time with me, and has always been a steady guide," said Rock.

Besides the comradery and support Rock feels with her family and teammates, she also learned important life skills through performing. She said that being confident in herself as a performer has helped with presentations in class.

"The hardest audience is people that you know," said Rock. "You have to learn to be more comfortable with who you are and what you bring to the table."

Homework also became easier for Rock because of her work with the speech team. She said that preparing for competition taught her to stay on task and complete things in a timely manner.

Rock said that most importantly, the speech team brought her out of her shell.

"Speech has really been a safe haven for me," said Rock.

Rock hopes to make it to the state competition again in her final season of high school speech, which will start in mid-November.