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John’s Journal: Chatfield’s Fryer Is Heart Of The Arts Winner

Worked Hard, Overcame Obstacles To Qualify For State Speech

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2022 - 10:51 PM

Nicholas Fryer remembers like it was yesterday. He was in middle school when high school students from the Chatfield High School speech team visited Nick’s English class to talk about the activity. He was hooked.

I really did not know what the speech program was,” Nick wrote in an email conversation. “I knew that I wanted to participate in speech when they gave the preview of poetry, because poetry was very appealing to me and I really loved reading poetry, as well.” 

I interviewed Nick via email because he has dealt with hearing loss since birth. Now a first-year student at Winona State University, Nick graduated from Chatfield last spring. His high school arts career was bookended by two key events: Speech students visiting that day in class, and his first appearance at the MSHSL state speech tournament near the end of his senior year.

Nick put in six years of dedication to speech despite obstacles that may have derailed others, and for that accomplishment he has been named the MSHSL Heart of the Arts Award winner. The award was created by the National Federation of State High School Associations to recognize individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts and represent the core mission of education-based activities.

“He had to work much harder than my other students on things they took for granted,” said Chatfield speech coach Rachel Schieffelbein. “He has cochlear implants, but still struggled with being able to hear and articulate the correct pronunciation of certain words, with enunciation, and with being able to properly control his volume, often coming in too loud. He worked, without complaint, for six years.”

Nick took part in other high school activities, including theater, choir, yearbook and art club. His accomplishments are remarkable considering that his hearing problems were obvious when he was just a baby. His cochlear implants, along with years of therapy, the ability to read lips and an unwavering attitude of determination, have taken him far.

“People who don’t know him don’t realize he’s deaf,” said Nick’s mother, Julie Fryer. “He worked so hard on speech therapy as a young child. For us it’s just another day in the life.”

Joining the speech team as a seventh-grader, Nick had to work much harder than other students when doing things they barely thought about.

“He became a captain on the team and helped other students who joined the program," Schieffelbein said. "He was someone I could always count on to keep things upbeat, show up for the work with a smile on his face, and not get down when things didn't go his way. And it was years before his hard work started to pay off.”

In the poetry category of speech competitions, contestants choose poems from published works. The ability to interpret meaning and emotion through honest facial and body expression is key during a 10-minute presentation.

Nick’s work began paying off when he collected ribbons at speech competitions when he was a junior at Chatfield. That season was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic and his senior speech season was held in a virtual format since in-person gatherings were off limits.

“That brought with it a whole new slew of issues,” Schieffelbein said. “Trying to practice over Zoom, making it so much harder for him to understand us, his coaches, was a huge challenge. It also often felt like starting over, working on volume control. But he never complained or showed his frustration. He just kept working and kept cheering on the rest of his team as he watched them succeed. He was beyond thrilled just to make it to sections, and watching him make it to state was one of the biggest highlights I've had as a coach. I've never had anyone more deserving of moving on.”

Nick wrote, “I knew speech was going to be challenging as a deaf person, and one of those challenges was my pronunciation of some words or sentences in the poems I was reciting. I really wanted people to hear me clearly in the poems that I was reciting, and it definitely gave me anxiety for sure. At the beginning of my time in speech, I had a hard time with it. I overcame that challenge by repeating words or sentences over and over again daily in every practice session with my coaches.

“My coaches were determined to help me and we never gave up and every time I practiced more, I gained more confidence in myself. All of that hard work really showed off in the 2021 speech season and I was very proud of myself for being dedicated and never giving up.”

Before the 2021 speech season began, Nick sat down with Schieffelbein and assistant coach Stephanie Copeman. He laid out his goals for the season, including his hopes of reaching the state tournament.

“The moment I realized that I was going to compete at state as a senior was overwhelming and joyful,” he wrote. “I felt relieved because it showed me that the past years of my hard work was finally paying off. It was great seeing it achieved. It also taught me that when you put your mind to something, you can do anything in this world.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]  

2021 Chatfield High School graduate Nicholas Fryer.

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