Five MFL MarMac students nominated for All-State Individual Speech

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Max Koeller

Dika Putri

Nick Stavroplus

Jaxton Schroeder

Jonah Wille

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Five MFL MarMac high school students—seniors Max Koeller and Dika Putri, junior Nick Stavroplus, sophomore Jaxton Schroeder and freshman Jonah Wille—were nominated for All-State Individual Speech last month, continuing a string of success for the district’s speech program.

The road to a nomination was anything but simple this year. MFL MarMac, joined by Kee High, hosted its own state contest in Monona on March 14, after the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA)  cancelled all larger state events due to COVID-19 concerns. The district, with approval from the IHSSA, was able to hire its own judges for the day. Those three made the all-state selections.

“The IHSSA, the judges and our coaches tried so hard to accommodate us and make something of it,” Koeller said. “I really appreciated it.”

“I’m thankful our coaches took the time to set that up,” Wille agreed. “Some schools in our area didn’t have that chance.”

Unfortunately, March 14 was the last time the five students were able to perform. The All-State Individual Speech Festival, scheduled for March 30 at the University of Northern Iowa, was also cancelled. However, all nominated students will receive a medal and be recognized for their accomplishments.

Max Koeller

Koeller has been selected to all-state speech before, both in the individual and group competitions. He earned nominations in two individual categories this year: acting and musical theater.

“It’s so fun to do two if you can manage your time,” he said.

In acting, Koeller’s piece, entitled “Cool with My Dad,” centered around a child leaving a voicemail for his dad on the first day of college. As a high school senior headed to college this fall, the topic was something he could relate to.

“There was plenty of humor mixed with sentimentality,” he described. “It was very heartwarming with a sweet ending.”

In acting, the participant has up to eight minutes to perform a memorized monologue, using  just a chair for a prop. There are no limitations on movements or facial and voice expressions.

Koeller said the most important aspects are the consistency of being in character and vocal variety.

“The most important part is never dropping character. If you’re acting well,” he explained, each part of the body works in unison. If you lose the character, that goes away.

Koeller’s second category, musical theater, is one he’s competed in every year. This time around, though, he moved away from humor to tackle a selection he labeled “dark and intense, almost horror.”

Entitled “The Confrontation,” it was a musical adaptation from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

“Their personalities confront each other,” Koeller said.

Like in acting, he was judged on his ability to stay in character while singing the memorized selection. Each character had to be easily differentiated through voice, actions and facial expressions.

“For Jekyll, I stood tall. I was scared but confrontational,” Koeller shared. “For Hyde, I was trying to be low, almost inhuman and monstrous.”

These strong physical actions are what set him apart.

“If I really developed it, I knew I could stand out,” he noted. “It was difficult but fun.”

Dika Putri

Putri, a foreign exchange student from Indonesia, earned her all-state nomination in poetry. Her pieces were all about time.

“The first one told you to stop worrying about being different and fitting in with everyone else,” she said. “The second was about an alarm clock. You had to get up and face the world, and not shut down the alarm clock.”

This was Putri’s first time doing poetry in a public speaking competition. She said the pieces fit her personality well and allowed her to show her strengths.

“I like to act and express myself. It was natural for me,” she stated. “I encouraged the audience” to connect with the pieces.

Nick Stavroplus

Stavroplus, who’s been to all-state group speech before, received his first individual nomination in spontaneous speaking. The category, he explained, “is like improv, but you have to have facts.” Each participant starts the competition by drawing three cards, then selects one as a topic. After three minutes of preparation, the individual has five minutes to perform, using a note card for reference.

“There are a wide range of political and non-political points you can make,” Stavroplus said.

At state, he answered the question “Are schools safe for students?”  He said “yes,” using the presence of police officers, security cameras and vaping and drug use detectors to back up the argument.

“I really look if I can draw on current events,” said Stavroplus. “You have your main topic and then sub points, and you have big opening and closing statements that bring it all together.”

Stavroplus said he prepared for the event by studying key issues, such as elections, the economy and homeland security. He then discussed those topics with other participants. Political debates with friends also helped him stay up to date.

In the heat of competition, he remarked, it’s not necessarily how much you know, but how you present that information.

“You have to think fast and get your points out clearly. The judges look at your organization and how everything connects,” Stavroplus explained. “You have to make them trust you. You have to sound like a politician—confident in what you’re saying.”

Jaxton Schroeder

Schroeder, who also participated in all-state group speech earlier this year, nabbed individual recognition in radio news broadcasting. In this category, students are given a packet of news stories—ranging from international and national news to sports and weather—a half hour prior to performing. They can select any of these pieces, then must fit them into a four- to five-minute non-stop news broadcast that’s performed over a PA system. Participants must also include a commercial and stop for a breaking news story.

Schroeder chose a story from each topic area. He said one of the most important parts is editing the content.

“They have all this jargon and unimportant information,” he commented. “You have to cut it down to the facts.”

Delivery is key too.

“Within radio broadcasting, you have to have a good flow and know when to pause,” Schroeder said. “The judges liked the pacing of my story and the editing.”

Schroeder has worked at KCTN for the past eight months. Being in that radio environment helped perfect his skills.

“Being there, recording ads and just listening to Dan Berns gave me a lot of preparation,” he noted.

Jonah Wille

Wille earned the rare distinction of making all-state as a freshman. He competed in storytelling, which requires participants to memorize a children’s book and re-tell the story using voice fluctuations and different character voices.

“We can have hand actions and facial expressions,” he said, “but you stay seated on a stool.”

Wille shared the story “Turkey Trouble,” about a turkey who disguises himself so he won’t get eaten for Thanksgiving. Some of the disguises included a cow, horse, pig, sheep and rooster, forcing Wille to develop a number of different character voices. Making sure the audience and judges know the difference between them all is important.

“They don’t have the book or pictures, so you have to tell who you are through your voice and actions,” he explained.

Wille admitted the story was a last-minute selection, after his original book ended up being too long for the five-minute time limit. His cousin, Lizzie Herzmann, an MFL MarMac graduate and four-time all-state speech selection, helped him prepare.

“We talked it out and tried different things,” Wille shared. “I had to work extra hard, but this was a good reward for that hard work.”

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