Record eight MFL MarMac students nominated for All-State Individual Speech

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A record eight MFL MarMac high school students have been nominated for All-State Individual Speech this year. The selections included (front, left to right) Sydney Moser, Clare Grau, Abby Schellhorn; (back) JJ Lynd, Will Koether, Jaxton Schroeder, Mackenzy Ruff and Shelby Mielke.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


A record eight MFL MarMac high school students have been nominated for All-State Individual Speech this year—a historic feat for a program that’s seen steady growth and success.


“We’re improving and getting better and better,” said junior Jaxton Schroeder, who was nominated in the radio news announcing category. “We have a lot of people graduate out of the speech program, but we also have a lot of talented freshmen and sophomores who come in to help the program.”


“Everyone just steps up,” added junior and expository address nominee Abby Schellhorn. “The talent is always still there.”


Along with Schroeder and Schellhorn, the all-state selections also included Will Koether, JJ Lynd, Shelby Mielke, Sydney Moser, Clare Grau and Mackenzy Ruff. The nominations came across seven different categories.


Schroeder, who’s also been twice-nominated for group speech, received individual honors in radio news announcing for the second straight year. In this category, participants have 30 minutes to sift through a packet of news, selecting international, national and local stories, along with weather, to edit and incorporate into a four- to five-minute broadcast. 


“There is also a commercial,” Schroeder said. “Then, there’s breaking news, which you don’t know about. They just hand it to you somewhere in the performance and you have to read it. The hardest part is you haven’t been able to practice that, so you have to do it on the fly.”


“What really got me the all-state nomination was the flow, the pronunciation and the inflection in my voice,” he noted.


Koether, a sophomore who was part of a group speech nomination this year as well, was recognized individually for his prose performance. In prose, students read a story or article over a six-minute span, adding voices, facial expressions and actions where necessary. The humorous topic, selected with help from speech coach Angie Killian, described how he got Wonder Bread particles stuck in his braces and the methods used to remove them.


“This year,” said Koether, “I think what set me apart was my flow and having good facial expressions, especially since one of my pages was upside down during the state performance. I just flipped it over quick and kept going.”


Lynd, a senior, did spontaneous speaking. Here, each participant is given three minutes to prepare a speech based on one of three provided topics.


“You don’t know what the topics are beforehand. You’re given a note card, and in those three minutes, you have to compose a speech that lasts around five minutes,” Lynd explained. “Mostly you’re judged on how well your speech is structured, how well you introduced the topic to your audience and whether or not your conclusion actually brought all the points home.”


This marked Lynd’s third year in the category. He received two out of three possible ones the first year, but last year didn’t make it to state because he tried a different approach.


“What I did differently this year was I structured my points in more of an orthodox fashion compared to sophomore and junior year,” he said. 


His topic was “Is free speech under threat in the United States?” 


“I really like that it forces you to think on your feet,” shared Lynd, “and it also brings up a lot of political topics, which is something I spend a lot of time thinking about.”


Mielke’s nomination came in literary program, an event that included one prose piece and two poetry pieces connected by a common theme. This year’s theme was Alzheimer’s and memory loss. 


“I did more of a funny piece before, so this year I really thought I could bring a lot of emotion. It doesn’t connect to me personally, but it could connect to so many people in the audience and the judges. I thought it was really important for me to present this well because of how serious it is,” said the junior. “I think what set me apart was, from districts to state, the judges continuously told me what I needed to work on. I put the effort in and did good character voices and worked on making my pieces more cohesive so people would really see the theme.”


Grau, a rare freshman nominee, was recognized in storytelling. In this category, students sit on a stool and tell a story, which, in her case, was the book “The Day the Crayons Quit.” Grau said she was attracted to the book because it featured different crayon voices she could perform.


“It made it easy to have a variety of voices, and I also had different sitting postures,” she said. “I think what set me apart was the different character voices and my facial expressions and hand gestures.”


Ruff was nominated for her after dinner speech, an under-five-minute-performance full of jokes, puns and witty remarks intended to make the audience laugh. For her original speech, the senior was the president of a farm organization and talked about agriculture. 


“It’s something I’m familiar with and I knew I could make it relate with my audience,” Ruff said. 


Unlike the other MFL MarMac students, who performed at state in front of live judges and audiences, Ruff had a district FFA event that day, so pre-recorded her entire speech. She said it was an interesting experience.


“At districts, I had an audience in front of me where I could look around and see everyone. When I was recording for state, I didn’t have anyone in the room, so I had to look around and picture people in the audience and imagine they were laughing along with me,” she shared.


Ruff was thrilled to receive the all-state nomination in her senior season.


“This is the first year I’ve gotten really involved in speech,” she remarked. “It shows that, once you do put in the hard work and try, you’ll get there. I’m happy with how it ended.”


Schellhorn and Moser were both nominated in the expository address event. An expository is an informational speech, but it’s also supposed to entertain the audience. 


Moser, who is a junior, explained how to find mushrooms, prepare them and sell them. The speech included a tree stump as well as fake morel mushrooms made out of antlers, which Moser borrowed from speech coach Killian.


“I think what set me apart was the props. I had it covered up and then revealed it,” Moser said. “Then I was in a hunter’s outfit.”


Schellhorn’s expository address, entitled “Sleep on This,” focused on dreams. She was attracted to the topic because she’s always wanted to know what dreams are like and what they mean.


“I talked about the four most common dreams people have, which were flying, falling, running and infidelity. I also wore a giraffe onesie and slippers, which helped set me apart,” she said, laughing.


Schellhorn noted her and Moser’s nominations were MFL MarMac’s first in expository address. In fact, it was the first time the school even entered the category.


“At first, we were wary about doing this category—we didn’t have much confidence,” she said. “But seeing how far it went for the both of us is incredible.”


Overall, the students said participating in speech has grown their confidence, particularly in public speaking.


“I joined speech my sophomore year and I hated public speaking. Now, I’m more comfortable, especially in front of peers,” Moser shared.


“Now, it’s one of my favorite things to do,” Schroeder added. 


Mielke said the extra-curricular activity has helped her become more attuned to her own speaking.


“Usually I’m just spitting words out, but then I start thinking about my voice, tone, facial expressions and the emotion I bring—everything I do,” she reflected. “It all comes back to being able to speak in public and properly get what you want to say out.”


“We can use it our whole lives,” Ruff quipped. “It’s a skill that will never go away.”


While the students’ abilities are not to be denied, they also credited their speech coaches, Killian, Melissa Haberichter and Diane Fisk, for aiding that success. The women would often stay at school into the evening, or come in on weekends, to work within the students’ busy schedules. 


“They’re so dedicated to helping make us successful. They will stay at school as long as possible to make sure all of us can practice, and they cheer us on and help build it to make it better for the next competition,” Schellhorn said.


Lynd said that dedication was especially important during a pandemic school year. 


“There were some changes brought on by COVID, which kind of threw a wrench into how speech was going to work this year,” he stated. “I think our coaches put in a lot more time trying to compensate for the fact we were working under pressure. As a result, I think we got that many more hours in compared to what we usually do. We got the kind of performances judges were looking for to get to all-state.”


The speech participants also credited one another for their support. Mielke said they often sit in on other events, critique practices and help classmates improve.


According to Schroeder, it’s no different than being team members on a sports team. 


“When you bring in someone, they can pick up different things with inflection and tone and help you clarify what you’re saying,” he said.


“It’s nice to practice with someone your own age instead of just the coaches,” Koether added.


As a freshman, Grau appreciated that.


“It’s really nice to have a whole bunch of people to help you out who already know what they’re doing. It’s a lot easier,” she said.


With the success of this year’s program, the speech participants hope to see their ranks—which included around 30 students—grow.


“Success breeds success,” said Koether. “By us succeeding, it shows other people it’s possible. You just have to work hard for it.”


Schellhorn said they plan to keep the bar raised.


“We know we’ve got more goals to accomplish,” she stated.

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