Record six students earn all-state nominations in individual speech

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MFL MarMac students Emma Ammons (left), Max Koeller, Hannah Rose, Lizzie Herzmann, Haylee Guyer and Keagan Smerud (not pictured) received all-state nominations in individual speech. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Six MFL MarMac high school students have received all-state nominations for individual speech this year—a record for the district.

“It’s a huge honor,” said teacher and coach Angie Killian. “There’s just a small percentage—8 percent—when you start off at districts that make it to All-State statewide.” 

After earning straight ones at the state contest, seniors Emma Ammons, Lizzie Herzmann (in two categories) and Hannah Rose, along with juniors Max Koeller and Keagan Smerud and freshman Haylee Guyer, all picked up nominations. 

Ammons, Herzmann, Koeller, Smerud and Guyer all performed pieces at the Iowa High School Speech Association All-State Speech Festival on March 25, on the University of Northern Iowa campus. Rose received a non-performing nomination, as did one of Herzmann’s pieces, meaning they did not perform live at the event.

“The only reason they do that is there’s only so much time in the day for all the students to showcase their performances for the crowd,” Killian noted. “It’s not any less of an honor to get a non-performing nomination.”

With two nominations this year­—one in storytelling and the other in prose—Herzmann has now earned a total of four all-state nominations in her high school career. As a freshman, she was recognized in storytelling, then in TV news last year. 

Herzmann’s performance nomination came for the storytelling piece “A Tale of Two Beasts,” which she said told two sides of a story. 

“It shows how nobody experiences the same thing,” she shared.

The story was a little more humorous than Herzmann usually takes on, said Killian.

“She likes serious,” the coach remarked, “but she stepped out of her comfort zone and was still successful.”

But it was Herzmann’s non-performing nomination, for the prose piece “The Whole World to Me,” that meant the most. Written by Herzmann herself, it described a mother-daughter relationship.

“Everyone can relate to that,” she said, so much so that it made most listeners cry. 

Herzmann made the decision to write her own prose after weeks of searching unsuccessfully for a piece. The process started off well, she said, “but I was having troubles with the end because my mom’s not that old, and she’s not really ready to die yet.” So she spoke with others who have been in that situation and “got real world experience from it. I think that really helped.”

Over the years, Killian said many students have found success writing their own pieces. 

“I think the students are more comfortable giving that speech because it’s their own,” she stated. “It’s their own words and thoughts.”

Rose received her nomination in literary program, which combines prose and poetry. Collectively called “A Matter of Time,” it was all about being late. One selection, entitled “Stopped by a Train,” had her portray a little kid in the back of a car, who was trying to find ways to pass the time. The other selection, “Sorry I’m Late,” is about running late for work and all the excuses she had to give her boss. 

“At the very end, they tell you it’s daylight savings time,” Rose said, “so I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m an hour early. Never mind, then!’”

“I think what really gave it away was how I can relate to it,” she added, “because I can be late sometimes.”

 Ammons stood out with “What Can You Do with a Chair?” in the acting category. She was attracted to the piece because it was fun and allowed her to interact with the audience. 

“What I like to do with mine is I have a bunch of different parts to it. I was being happy, I was being sad, I was being goofy. I do a lot with the chair, like I’ll dance with it and stand on top of it,” she explained. “The sense of the piece was I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was out there winging it.”

The chair even fell on her head during the state performance, which she said the judges enjoyed.

 Koeller wowed the judges with a solo musical theater piece called “Michael in the Bathroom,” from the musical “Be More Chill.” It’s about a kid who’s at a house party, and he’s hiding in the bathroom because his best friend left him alone.

“Now, he’s trying to wait in there until he has to go home. He wants to go out there, but he doesn’t. He’s mad and he’s sad and there’s all these emotions he has tangled up. I think it’s relatable, and I think it’s funny, in a sense,” detailed Koeller.

Not only does the piece have a decent range, he noted, but it also incorporates more acting than some other musical numbers.

“There are a lot of ways you can show that emotion he has built up,” Koeller said. “I think that’s what made it a good piece to do.”

Guyer’s category was radio news announcing. Through this, the participant prepares opening and closing remarks, as well as transitions, beforehand. Then, at the competition, they’re given a folder filled with potential news stories, weather and sports. In a half hour, they must weed through those, selecting items to incorporate into the performance. The event must also include a commercial.

Radio news is harder, she admitted, because you can’t prepare much ahead of time. You have to search for ways to stand out. 

“I say ‘This is Channel 103 with Haylee G., LTAT - Let’s Talk About That,’” Guyer said. “I created a different catchphrase and persona for that character to kind of follow. The judges really liked that.”

Smerud also competed in prose, with a piece called “Where You Can Stick the Sticker Price.”

“He was talking about the awful ordeal it is to buy a car from a car salesman, all the ways they never actually tell you what the price of the car is,” Koeller said of his friend’s performance. “It was a very humorous piece.”

“He’d change personas a lot and do different voices,” Rose added.

The students spend hours preparing their pieces and practicing in front of Killian and the assistant coaches, Melissa Haberichter and Diane Fisk. Ammons said the coaches are part of the reason they all got this far.

“They come in at any hours,” she commented. “They work with our schedule and that’s why we’re able to get this far because we put in so much effort to practice.”

“The practice times are very flexible because you can sort of make them up yourself. You have a good amount of time to really get prepared,” Koeller added.

Killian said it’s more than that, though. She credits the students with being able to take advice.

“They come in and they ask for critique,” she noted. “They don’t just hear the critiques, they listen and apply the constructive criticism.”

Students are also willing to work outside their comfort zones, trying new categories and pieces at the suggestion of the coaches. 

“The coaches spend a lot of time talking about the students and their strengths,” said Killian. “When you see talent, you want to encourage it.”

Speech members encourage one another, too.

“We all have ways to boost our confidence,” Rose said. 

They attend one another’s performances, if they’re able. At state, Rose’s only audience members were Koeller, Ammons and Smerud.

“We sat all spread out so she could look at all of us,” Koeller shared.

“That’s one of the tricks we do to help each other,” added Ammons. “We spread it out so they have to look around, which helps, because that’s one of the things you get critiqued on.”

As the youngest of the group, Guyer said she learns from the older students—how they practice and how they perform.

“They all radiate confidence,” she said. Keagan, for example, “never looks nervous.”

The students are all proud of their all-state accomplishments, but as Ammons quipped, speech is about more than “the reward of a nomination.”

They have gained valuable public speaking skills, said Herzmann, which has given them the confidence to speak in front of groups of people.

Guyer has learned to like the sound of her voice.

“Mrs. Killian kept telling me my voice was really good and I never really thought anything of it,” she said. “Now I’m at All-State. I feel like it’s helped me gain a lot more confidence.”

“When you’re in speech, you’ve just got to believe in yourself,” Rose remarked. “Don’t jinx yourself out. You’re good.”

By performing on stage, and getting to act crazy, Ammons said it helps her become more comfortable in her own skin. She’s happy to cap off her senior year with this memory. 

“You just have to go for it and give it everything,” she told herself. “Being able to see I can make it somewhere when I put in that effort, it gives me hope to get through the rest of this [school year] and carry it on to the rest of what I’m going to be doing.” 

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