Ketchikan High School senior Dametre Martin is in his fourth year of excelling on the school’s drama, debate and forensics team.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” Martin told the Daily News during an interview at Kayhi ahead of this past weekend’s regional DDF tournament against six other schools.
Martin said he joined the team during his freshman year at Kayhi, adding that he had been “talking about it pretty much since the third grade.”
“For me, I like the competition aspect of it, and the amount of preparation that goes into it,” Martin said about what draws him to participate in DDF. “It’s the process, is the big thing.”
As a member of the team, Martin has delivered speeches, engaged in debate and performed scripts.
During the weekend’s regional tournament at Kayhi, Martin came in fourth place for reader’s theater, earned fifth in the original oratory event, tied for fifth place in the individual debate and placed ninth in the public forum debate.
Throughout his DDF career to date, Martin hasn’t treated his stutter as something that holds him back from competing.
In his freshman year, Martin even gave a speech centered around stuttering, using the opportunity to explain the science behind the speech impediment.
“We assume that everything’s happening at the mouth, but what’s actually happening is that a lot of electrical and chemical signals from our brain have to travel into the hundreds of mouth muscles we have, and what causes a stutter — or what can be a cause of a stutter — is having a break in that chain that causes the muscle to seize or not shape, or not even receive the message,” Martin said.
According to the Kayhi DDF team coach David Mitchel, when Martin first began competing, judges were prone to taking points off Martin’s score, as they took his stutter — a condition he will have throughout his life — as a sign of being nervous.
Now in his fourth year on the team, judges do not mark Martin down for his stutter.
“What I do is before I perform, I’ll just say, ‘I have a speech impediment,.I ask I don’t be marked down as a result of that.’”
Some events during tournaments or meets make it worse, while other settings make it easier.
Martin said that when he is comfortable during a conversation, or when he is working with friends, the stutter is slightly less pronounced.
“In a team-based event – so like my debate, or reader’s theater — being comfortable with those I’m working with helps me a lot,” Martin said.
However, some portions of a tournament — such as the duet acting event —make it worse.
“Stress acts it up, and when we’re all riding on a time constraint — because our event pushes time — and my stuttering eats up more time, it causes a lot more stress, which makes it worse the farther we go into the piece,” he said.
During a tournament, Martin is more likely to take notice of his stuttering.
“I notice it more, obviously, because I’m critiquing myself along the whole speech so I can improve it more, but the rate it occurs … it depends on the room, it depends on the event, it depends on who’s watching, who’s not watching,” Martin said.
Martin has a list of tactics he uses to help.
“I do the opposite of what’s recommended,” he said. “I cope in a pretty unique fashion. It’s a personalized thing — you do what works for you.”
Martin explained that most people recommend that someone struggling with a stutter slow down their words and their breathing. However, Martin speeds up both the speed that he talks at and how fast he is breathing. Unlike many others, he doesn’t stop and try to restart his words.
“I’ve never really cared about my stutter,” Martin said. “I was a never a fan of speech therapy, ever since I learned it was an issue that was not going to go away. And the best way to get past it is to learn how to cope. It’s part of me.”
Martin said that while he has personally met two other people involved in the DDF program who stutter — or did stutter at one time — it is not common.
“There’s not many of us out there, overall,” Martin said. “I think some around 1% of the global population has a stutter.”
Martin believes that people with the speech disorder or other speech impediments may be hesitant to get into public speaking.
“The thing I’ve found with most people with speech impediments is they psyche themselves out of it, and they think it’s a bigger deal than it is,” Martin explained. “And it can be impairing, but at the end of the day, you do what you got to do, and have fun with it.”
Martin said that in many conversations, people do things that make his stutter worse.
“The big ones, … reminding us to breath, reminding us to slow down mid-conversation (and) completing our words or sentences,” he said. “Those three are some of the most demoralizing things you can do, because it takes away our ability to be independent, to a degree. Our ability to be self-sustainable.”
Often, people do these things in an attempt to help him.
Instead, Martin simply advises them to be patient.
“Just keep the flow of the conversation, especially if you don’t have to listen to somebody who has a stutter often,” he said. “It can jar you at first, it can catch you by surprise, but just trying to keep that flow of conversation, and just trying to say, ‘It doesn’t matter that you have a stutter, let’s continue the conversation as I would anyway.’”
Martin said he has had many great experiences on the team, even though it can be draining.
One challenge that Martin has grappled with is balancing DDF and his regular school assignments.
“I have a particularly bad habit of letting debate consume my time, and dropping the ball on other classes I take, and just trying to stay afloat,” he explained.
Preparing for a meet or tournament takes time.
For example, Martin has been researching for his speech on the topic of restorative justice for youth in the state of Alaska since last summer.
DDF research can be demanding and time-consuming. Martin said that at one point in his junior year – which he said is a very stressful year — he thought about leaving the team.
“At some times — especially right after a particularly rough meet — just overall there’s points in time where you just want to stop. You don’t want to go and give your speech anymore at a meet,” Martin said. “You don’t want to go to that next round of debate. And just the mental block of, ‘I have to do it again.’”
Even so, Martin enjoys his time on the team, and has been a consistent member through his high school career.
“I’ve improved in, overall, my ability to connect thoughts and be able to tie them into something tangible and try to persuade people,” Martin said of what he has learned.
He also enjoys spending time with his teammates.
“It’s a very light-hearted group, and the banter that ensues is always good,” Martin joked. “We’ve had some pretty interesting situations come up — it’s just what happens when you stick a bunch of teenagers in a room that know how to talk.”
After finishing high school, Martin plans to attend Fort Lewis College, where he will study psychology or business administration.