In 1945 Father A. Frances Coomes, a teacher at St. Louis University High School established the Bellarmine Speech League for parochial grade schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Along with a group of dedicated student volunteers from SLUH, Father Coomes copied and distributed public speaking materials to grade schools in the Archdiocese. Over sixty years later, the Bellarmine Speech League continues to flourish.
The Bellarmine Speech League strives to give students the techniques and skills (e. g. appropriate use of gestures and facial expressions) necessary when making a presentation. Students will learn to be more poised and self-confident during public speaking activities. Along with learning to adjust the volume and to enunciate, team members develop a sense of camaraderie that comes with belonging to a theatrical community. Students in grades 6-8 are able to participate in speech meets during the school year along with other students in the diocese, memorizing and performing short pieces of published writing. Preparation for each meet begins about 4 – 6 weeks before the meet. Students should plan to spend approximately one hour after school, twice a week in preparation for each meet. Team members develop and improve their acting skills by memorizing and performing the material in Humorous, Serious, and Duet categories. The fun part begins when the students begin “acting,” and in effect, become the characters they have chosen. The students perform their selection in front of a room full of parents, fellow contestants, and of course, a trained Bellarmine judge and timekeeper. Ribbons are then awarded to all participants based on a combined total of the judges’ scores from two rounds. There are four meets held each year on a Saturday (one in November, February, March, and April/May) at various schools throughout the diocese. For the Final Meet, each participating school may send just one contestant for each category. These team members then compete against all other contestants in the diocese. At the Final Meet, trophies are awarded to the top 20% of participants along with the traditional ribbons.