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Speaking of success …

Purrington name continues to be synonymous with speech

October 20, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

The Marshall High School speech program has been a strong organization for the past 30 years, in part because of one family's passion for the activity.

Carol Purrington established the foundation for a speech dynasty, beginning in 1980. Later, her two sons - Rick and Rob - came through the MHS program, finding their own success in the speech world.

"Both of my boys participated in speech," Carol Purrington said. "They both were state competitors. They both ended up coaching."

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Rick Purrington and his mother, Carol have both enjoyed plenty of success teaching speech students in the Marshall School District.

Rick Purrington is currently the MHS head speech coach.

"You can guess what we probably talk about at Thanksgiving," Rick Purrington said. "We talk about speech. That's what we do."

While Carol Purrington retired from her head speech coach position in 2001, she still made herself available for judging and assisting son Rob and his wife Tammy, who served as the head speech coach at Tracy Area High School for a number of years, and son Rick at MHS.

"I think it gets in your blood, and if you're passionate about it, you don't want to give it up," she said. "Now I can still keep in touch with it, I can coach a few students, I can go to a few tournaments, but I don't have all the responsibility I had when I was head coach. That's what's great about it."

After coaching at Eastview High School in Apple Valley from 1999-2007, Rick Purrington followed his heart back to Marshall, becoming the head speech coach in the fall of 2007.

"One of the joys that I've had is coming back to my high school to teach (social studies) and coach," he said. "Certainly, my mother was a big part of this program for a lot of years, built it up and that sort of thing. When she retired, one of the things I felt strongly about doing was coming here. There's an extra incentive to the program when your family has been a part of it for so long."

At the Minnesota Speech Coaches Association (MSCA) conference in September, Rick Purrington was presented the Class AA MSCA Coach of the Year award, voted on by coaches throughout the state.

"I was humbled because there were a number of really great coaches that were nominated from other sections," Rick Purrington said. "And, I had been nominated one other time before, in 2005, when I was at Eastview, and I was also with a number of great coaches that I really respect. I didn't get it that time and I didn't think I would this time either."

With each of the eight sections allowed to have one representative each (Section Coach of the Year), Purrington was among seven others in the state to be nominated for the Coach of the Year award. Then, coaches across the state vote for one of the eight nominees.

"Just to be standing up in front of all your colleagues as a nominee is an honor," he said. "Then to be named as Coach of the Year is pretty neat. When you're voted on by your colleagues, it's extra special because they're the people who are really in the know. They know what you do and you go through the trenches with them every single weekend. So for them to recognize you is pretty special."

Carol Purrington also knows how much an award given through the support of one's peers means. She received Class AA Coach of the Year recognition in 1996.

"I was at the convention when Rick got his award," she said. "It brought back memories from when I got it. It's always humbling to be recognized by your peers."

Between 1980-1996, Carol Purrington helped produce 11 state speech champions and 76 state medalists. With the continued success at the state level, Carol Purrington began challenging students to compete at the national level.

Under Rick Purrington's tenure as the head speech coach, MHS students have continued to be highly competitive at the state level in addition to being recognized nationally. In fact, the MHS program was recognized in September for being in the top 5 percent of National Forensic League chapters nationwide, earning membership in the League's prestigious 200 Club for the first time in school history.

Rick Purrington was quick to point out, though, that he is not the only coach on the team and that the 14 assistant coaches also deserve recognition.

"We have a group of assistant coaches who coach a lot of our kids," he said. "When our kids do well, it's not all me. A lot of this has to do with the success of the program. There's no way that I can coach 70 kids on our team. So I guess I would say that all the assistant coaches that we have on the team deserve this, as well as the students, too. If they don't work hard, there's no accolades for any of us."

In the past three decades, there have been a lot of changes in the speech world. Carol Purrington remembers that when she first starting teaching in Luverne, there were no tournaments prior to sub-sections, which were called districts back then.

"There were no invitational tournaments, so students only prepared for sub-sections," she said. "It was not nearly as intensive as it is now. The invitational tournaments have made the activity much more competitive and better all around because students get so many chances to compete and to perfect and polish their speeches."

The whole premise, Carol Purrington said, is to be as good as possible. For that reason, the speech season began stretching out over a longer period of time.

"The activity has grown tremendously," Rick Purrington said. "I remember when I first competed, we'd have maybe five competitions. Now, the kids have like 10-12 competitions before they even get to subsections.

Communication itself has also changed. Carol Purrington said she remembers having to arrange for students to come in and get their photographs taken from the media. She would also write up the articles on a typewriter. Now, everything can be sent electronically.

"A lot of our communication is done electronically, through e-mail," Rick Purrington said. "That really helps. My mom didn't have that."

Not only are speech competitors expected to speak well, they're also required to look more professional than 20 years ago. Today, most students, both male and female, wear tailored suits, predominantly black, along with a colorful dress shirt underneath.

"I remember people wearing sports jackets and sweater vests," Rick Purrington said. "Now, it's all suits."

The MHS team even carries an emergency suitcase, stocked with spare shoes, nylons, bobby pins, hairspray and other essentials that might have gotten left at home that day.

Going forward, the Purrington family will likely continue to have an impact on speech at MHS. Carol Purrington said she enjoys helping coach and judge whenever she is needed. She admits that she likes all the categories but feels she can coach some better than others. Carol Purrington's specialty is informative speeches, but she also coaches poetry and will also do some storytelling this year, she said.

Carol Purrington said she enjoys judging dramatic duo the most, but also loves judging humor, great speeches and informative speeches.

"The hardest part about judging is writing a good critique, where you can give helpful comments to help the student improve and at the same time, give positive comments about what the student does well," she said. "And it's hard to write and listen at the same time. You know that their egos are at stake, too, so you do have to pick your words carefully."

Rob Purrington still coaches a few students each year at MHS. Rick's wife Heather coaches the junior high team.

"Rob's work schedule doesn't allow him to coach very many students, but he had a state champion a couple of years ago," Carol Purrington said. "Tammy sometimes helps with some things down in Tracy."

Rick Purrington said he is especially excited about the upcoming season, which will begin in November and continue through April, because of the strong leadership of the 18 senior speech students, one of which is ranked No. 1 in the national pre-season poll.

"This senior class is dynamite," he said. "When they were freshmen, they were very good already. Last year, they were a really hard-working, dedicated group. Now, their senior year, I've been looking forward to this for the last four years. The talent is really exciting on the team, more than ever. It's going to be a fun year."



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