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Medford’s Swanson Bags a State Speech Title

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State championships are hard to come by in any activity, and Medford High School landed a most improbable one last Friday.

Matthew Swanson, competing in speech for just his second season, parlayed a fourth-place finish at the Subsection meet in Janesville and a third-place finish at the Section meet into a state gold medal at Lakeville North.

His Creative Expression piece, “The Black Bag,” a humorous look at an exorcism through the eyes of two priests from different generations and a comical demon, didn’t render a single No. 1 ranking from any of the eight judges, yet Swanson will join Medford’s 1981 football team and the Tigers 2002 wrestling squad as first-place finishers at state.

Swanson actually won a three-way tie-breaker for the final round on Friday, which was conducted in a packed choir room where the laughter and energy were high. Once in the finals, the contestants start anew, presenting before five judges. Swanson’s final round scores of 3-2-4-2-5 (16) were good enough to give him a narrow one-point win over Blackduck’s Angello Bell and Fairmont’s Lexi Fischer.

So how do you go from placing fourth in a subsection to winning a state title?

“I just kept tweaking it and it got better,” Swanson said. “I had a lot of help from coaches and my friends to work on movements and comic timing.” Assistant coach Betsy Cole worked most closely with Swanson on polishing a very original idea into something that would ignite a choir room audience at state.

Creative Expression is the most unique and difficult (in my opinion) category at state, as contestants are required to perform a nine-minute speech, written by the contestant, using original characters. The mood can be serious, humorous, or both, although the humorous ones are usually the best and Swanson’s fits that mold.

When I was in eighth grade at Blooming Prairie in 1993, I took second at state in Creative Expression. Back then, there were only three judges in the final round and my scores of 2-2-1 were just one point shy of champion Bethany Hummel from Pipestone, who received rankings of 1-1-2. Hummel’s piece was pretty hilarious — it was titled “The Raven by Edgar Allen Hummel,” a farce about a speech contestant trying to pass off classic literature as her own work.

Swanson, a senior, was not the type of kid who took to speech at a young age, so he was really new to this level of competition. As a junior he competed in Dramatic Duo and was eliminated at Sections.

A year later, he’s on his way to having a spot on the Medford High championship wall next to football coach John Gross.

Swanson, an Owatonna native, plans to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City after graduation, where he will pursue an acting career. He will live with his aunt and uncle in nearby New Jersey.

I have to say I’m a little jealous. I went to state in speech three different years, won section titles in all three of those years, and here’s a kid who picked it up at the tail end of his high school career, and never sniffed a blue ribbon until that anxious moment on the biggest stage when it mattered the most.

Good for you, Matt. You’ll be part of Medford Tigers history forever.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

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