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Lodi High School star athlete Ryan Ozminkowski finds his true power in public speaking contests

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Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 7:03 am

On the soccer field, Ryan Ozminkowski has established himself as a standout.

He is the goalkeeper for Lodi High School’s varsity boys soccer team.

He was named to the San Joaquin Athletic Association’s all-league team this past season.

Plus, he’s quite the track star. The 17-year-old is currently the team captain and holds a litany of season records.

But away from sports, he’s making a name for himself with the fluency of his words.

In February, Ozminkowski won first place in the Student Speakers Contest for the Lions Club Lodi chapter for a speech on why community service matters.

After winning at the club level, he is now moving up in the competition. The six-round contest concludes with the Multiple District Four Contest on June 7 in Rosemead, where the winner will take home $21,000 in scholarships.

While playing sports is rewarding in its own way, there’s nothing quite like the heady challenge of constructing an award-winning speech, says Ozminkowski.

“I kind of value intellectual winning over athletic stuff,” he said. “You’re thinking a lot.”

Speech tops sports

The Lodi resident was born in Ohio, but moved to Lodi with his family (Pam and Rich Ozminkowski, and sister Katie, 19) as an infant. Ozminkowski has a longer resume playing sports than speaking in front of an audience. He started playing soccer when he was 10 and running track his freshman year. Delivering speeches wouldn’t come until his sophomore year.

Still, his interest in public speaking can be traced back as far as the 6th grade. As a student in Mr. George Raybe’s class at Elkhorn School, he dressed up as Dionysus, the Greek god of agriculture and wine, to deliver speeches for fundraisers.

“That was really the pivotal moment that I realized that I liked public speaking. (Mr. Raybe) just gave me so many opportunities to do it,” he said.

In his more youthful days, Pam Ozminkowski recalls, mustering courage in front of large audiences was never an issue.

“He’s always seemed very comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, even since junior high,” she said.

Fast-forward to his teenage years, and Ozminkowski has come to view public speaking as the best way to relay his ideas to audiences of all ages.

With his Lions Club speech, he wanted to send a clear message to the group’s older members: Not every student views community service as simply a means for padding their resumes.

“I could talk to people, older people, and enlighten them on today’s youth and give them an optimistic outlook,” he said.

But the Lions Club speech was special. Usually, Ozminkowski is competing as a member of Lodi High’s Speech and Debate Team.

Under the direction of English and speech teacher Cathryn Geyer, the 25-member club competes in numerous league tournaments, state and national qualifiers and invitationals throughout the school year.

In February, the club traveled to Palo Alto for the Stanford National Invitational. The three-day event offers students from across the nation a chance to square off in a variety of different formats.

Casual orator to formidable competitor

For Ozminkowski, such events are an invitation to soak up the ideas of bright peers. Facing such talented orators has become the greatest challenge he’s faced as a public speaker.

“It’s a very academic atmosphere. You have the pleasure of listening to people and their ideas,” he says. “The invites especially have really good competition.”

But in his own right, Ozminkowski has grown both in confidence and the ability to explain complex subject matters, according to Geyer.

“He’s gotten progressively more capable of dealing with higher level concepts,” she said.

Ozminkowski likes to flex his oratorial muscles in several different events.

For example, there’s parliamentary debate, in which paired students have 20 minutes to whip up a for-or-against argument based on a topic given to them.

Out of the 184 teams in the category at the SNI, Ozminkowski and his partner, Joshua Baumbach, finished 32nd.

Another format is impromptu, which demands even greater nimbleness, as students must create a five-minute speech in two minutes.

Lastly, there’s the original oratory, a 10-minute speech that requires heavy research and practice in advance.

Each time he competes in the category, Ozminkowski delivers the same speech, tweaking it when necessary. This year, he’s speaking on the need for individuals to think for themselves.

Long before the competitions started, he was hard at work on his words. Last summer, he trimmed down a 30-page behemoth to a structured six pages.

In its current form, the speech combines humor from the British comedy group Monty Python and a powerful family anecdote to convey a serious point.

Usually, it takes Ozminkowski a day or two to have a speech down pat. But the brunt of his memorization happens during the writing stage.

“You’re writing it so much, so many of those sentences are ingrained in your brain,” he said.

A reshaped future

With his own speaking style still taking shape, outside influences have encouraged Ozminkowski to strive for a more conversational, less rehearsed tone.

Sir Ken Robinson, an English author, educator and creativity expert, has earned Ozminkowski’s respect for presenting substantive ideas in an entertaining fashion.

Late night TV hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have also won him over with their witty humor and solid performances.

“I’m just so impressed with how they come up with that quality of show every night,” he said.

While another year of speech and debate lies ahead, the activity has already left its mark on Ozminowski’s long-term planning.

His career aspirations have slightly shifted from engineering and science to the fields of law and politics.

“I really have no idea which route I’ll go,” he said.

Whatever course he settles on, he’ll enjoy the full support of his family.

“I’m proud of him no matter what,” said Pam Ozminkowsky.

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