- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

LEXINGTON, Neb. (AP) - Five graduates of Lexington High School are coaching the school’s speech team, the same team they once competed on together.

The coaching staff includes Diana Rodas, a 2009 LHS graduate who now teaches eighth-grade math at Lexington Middle School; Daniel Arias, a 2008 LHS graduate who teaches English and speech at the high school; Luis Sotelo, a 2007 graduate who works as a college planning specialist for EducationQuest Foundation in Kearney; Joy Roos, a 2008 graduate who returned home in November after completing a master’s degree in social work; and Corey Reutlinger, a 2008 graduate who is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

The five coaches attribute who they are and what they have accomplished to what they learned in speech. That is why they want to be part of speech again as adults.

They said they want to build a more cohesive speech program to help students succeed beyond high school.

“Out of the different things I do currently, speech is the most rewarding,” Rodas told the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1UNUnQa ).

She said working with students is like having a front row seat to the future because as students are challenged and learn to think differently they grow as leaders.

“Hands down, we have some of the most resilient students,” she said.

Rodas said she returned to Lexington to teach out of a sense of gratitude for what the community gave her while growing up.

“I felt like I owed Lexington a lot for who I became. My teachers were a real role model growing up,” she said.

Arias said while he was a college student at UNK he didn’t plan to return to Lexington to teach, but he felt drawn back after working in the district as a substitute teacher.

“Every time I visited I felt like there needed to be positive role models for minorities in the community,” he said.

Arias said he tells students who are members of the speech team that the speaking skills they learn will help them in a professional setting. It is a justification for the investment in time.

“Speech does change your life,” he said.

Each member of the current coaching team was taught and coached by Enid Hansen, now retired. They said Hansen still influences them when they work with students.

“I think we can all agree she was very highly influential in our lives beyond what public speaking looks like. We always called her the ‘Classy Lady,’” Sotelo said.

Roos said they continue Hansen’s legacy of being upstanding with competitors and realize they are growing individuals.

“We’ve been cognizant of passing that on. That’s made the difference for us,” Roos said.

Rodas said this year the coaching staff has focused on a rebirth of speech because the program hasn’t had a consistent long-term coach recently.

The speech season began in the summer with a Speech Academy. It was mostly a cultural building endeavor to bring speech team members together to define a team mission and vision, Sotelo said.

After attending a convention for coaches, the group members said, they changed their strategy a bit by conducting themed workshops for instruction. It saved time and potential burnout and enhanced team unity, they said.

“It was transformational,” Sotelo said.

Roos said they try to give students a deeper understanding of the theory behind public speaking - the strategy behind writing and performing.

“It helps them understand how to communicate to an audience,” she said.

There are 28 varsity and novice students on the speech team. There are nine regular season competitions and one national qualifier.

The coaching staff feels rewarded in working with students and seeing their hard work and success.

“It’s a great feeling hearing Lexington called over and over again,” Rodas said of the team’s medal earnings.

“There are Lexington natives in a lot of our activities,” Phil Truax, Lexington Public School’s activities director, said. “In speech, for it to be 100 percent Lexington, that’s great. We’re thrilled to death that we have Lexington people in there, and they are doing a great job.”

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Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

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