Membership FAQs

If you are a current coach/director, your email address should be on file with us, and you can use the "Forgot your password?" link on the login page.  If you're still having trouble, contact us.

Joining WHSFA connects a school with a network of coaches/directors who support each other through contests and professional development. The WHSFA employs a professional administrator with over 20 years of experience in teaching and coaching Speech and Debate, directing and teaching Theatre, and running interscholastic contests -- and who is available to help support advisors. Learn more about our mission and programmingClick here to join.

We offer school membership for middle level and high schools; visit our membership page for information on dues and enrolling a school for membership.

You can always start with the State Office, who will connect you with the best answer to your question.

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

Please see the logo/branding policy.

Contest FAQs

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, Debate Contests, or Middle Level contests pages for a list by date, including locations. Please note: each local area sets its own schedules, so the State Office posts these on our website only when we have been notified.

See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, or Debate Contests pages for a button/link that will take you to the online registration platform for registering. Each of those pages also will contain tutorial information on how to register. Most Middle Level contests handle registration directly through email, although some have moved to using SpeechWire; contact the host for more information (host contact information is available when clicking a particular contest in the Middle Level upcoming dates calendar.

Please review the PDF handbook for your particular activity, which has a number of resources and suggestions. We also compiled a Speech Festival Manager Info page, with instructions on using the SpeechWire contest management website/software.

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

After the WHSFA created virtual interscholastic contest opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has opened the possibility to offer virtual qualification and participation experiences. Governing leaders of the Association will weigh the feasibility and fairness of allowing such options in the future. No definitive decision has been made yet for post-pandemic protocols. It is unlikely any dispensation would be made for State-level high school contests, given the integrity and investment in making those in-person experiences.

Speech Adjudicator Training/Certification FAQs

Initially, you pay for and enroll in an online course that takes about 2 hours, followed by a 3-hour live workshop, culminating with an assessed evaluation of a student presentation. Provided the assessment has been completed successfully, certification lasts 3 years, inclusive of the school year of enrollment.  Certification can be renewed upon successful completion of a brief renewal course and assessment. Learn more at our adjudication page.

You will pay for and enroll in an online course that takes about 30 minutes, plus evaluating a student presentation. Upon successful completion of the course and evaluation, certification will be renewed. To learn more, visit our adjudication page.

If your certification lapsed since 2008, you may enroll in the Renewal course. If it was earlier than 2008, please enroll in the Initial Training course.

Descriptive Words-Phrases for Adjudicators

Generally speaking, contests ask for one adjudicator for every five entries, or fraction thereof. Some contests require fewer or more. This means that if a school has 7 entries, it should bring two adjudicators. Some contests will allow schools to pay a fee for uncovered adjudicators, not because they have extras they can hire for a school, but to incentivize schools to bring their own adjudicators. It is a burden on any host when schools do not provide all of the adjudicators they are expected to. The State Festival requires one adjudicator for 1-8 entries, two adjudicators for 9-19 entries, and three adjudicators for 20-25 entries.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list. We do not have lists for specific regions of the state, because there's too much overlap between areas with contests schools attend.

We have an online complaint form that can be accessed from the Speech Contests or the Theatre Contests pages.

Theatre & Thespys FAQs

FAQs with asterisks (*) pertain to the virtual option during the 2021-22 season.

Each school/school district may have its own public health guidelines/restrictions in place, including, but not limited to: face coverings, social distancing, testing, vaccination, etc.  Each school/institution that hosts a WHSFA contest must register with the State Office (and provide any subsequent changes/updates) any public health requirements in place, and communicate to guest schools what is expected of their participants (students, coaches, adjudicators). Each guest school must adhere to host venue requirements or their own school's requirements, whichever is more restrictive. Schools whose students, adjudicators, and/or coaches fail to comply may be asked to leave the premises of the contest venue, and if students have not yet been fully evaluated, their school may submit a recorded virtual entry for evaluation, if within the deadline for asynchronous adjudication at that contest level.

Please defer to whichever public health authority your school/school district is using, and consult the Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide (you must complete the form with your contact information to access the full guide, and not just the update addendum).

Of course, a school may opt to record an outdoors performance, a performance in a large gymnasium/fieldhouse, or other outside-the-box solution!

Yes. We will hold an invitational/practice Thespys contest, along with a State Festival component, as an opportunity in addition to the one-act series, so students may participate in one or both of these.

Yes, since this would allow working with smaller cohort groups/pods.  This is allowed, irrespective of whether one show is in person and the other is virtual. Schools may submit the same show with different casts and should title them differently (e.g., The Tempest, Cast A; The Tempest, Cast B). Each cast would be evaluated on its own merits. A school is still limited to just one in-person one-act entry at each level (District, Sectional, State).

If you are submitting a videorecording of a one-act performance, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students (updated policy for 2021-22).

The timeframe 40 minutes, bare stage to bare stage for both in-person and virtual one-act entries, to facilitate easier transition between the two modes (updated 9/27/2021).

Yes, that is a suitable alternative to a tradition videoconference, particularly where bandwidth access is a concern. Fade in/out transitions would be allowable in this context, but no other editing other than connecting the video with subtle transitions is allowed.

Yes, and this applies for both in-person video capture as well as screen recording of videoconferences (such as using Switcher Studio or a similar tool). The key rule is no post-production editing, which is what delineates theatre from film. We also will advise adjudicators to not preference multiple cameras.

Any videoconference platform that allows for recording meetings and downloading those recordings will work. One of the most popular platforms with the most features is Zoom, which features, including:

We understand some schools/school districts may be uncomfortable with Zoom; we have posted a letter to administrators addressing this, and asking they reconsider.

However, other platforms, such as Google Meet, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc., could still work.

The Educational Theatre Association has Resources for Creating Virtual Performances, worth checking out!

The most common video formats that are widely acceptable for sharing are:

  • .mp4
  • .mov
  • .m4v
  • .mpeg4

Please see this article for more guidance.

We ask all adjudicators to take the new, free, and entirely online Theatre Adjudicator Training course,which including the viewing and evaluation of a full one-act production, should take about 90 minutes. Individuals who successfully complete the assessment (evaluation of recorded one-act) will be certified and will receive a certificate documenting 2 hours of professional development contact time.

Each adjudication commitment (one-act or Thespy) involves about 3 hours of time; one-act adjudicators must  record one oral response per commitment, which can be shared as a unlisted YouTube video, shared video file on Google Drive or Dropbox with sharing enabled to those who have a link (complete instructions will be given to adjudicators).

Yes, absolutely. Please see the FAQ regarding expected commitment for each assignment.

In an era where school shootings are commonplace, and several laws and rules have been passed regarding firearms -- including props -- for general safety and to mitigate panic, schools are discouraged from using prop firearms altogether. However, the following policy is in effect for schools who wish to attempt to use a prop firearm:

  1. All school district*, university*, state and federal laws must be honored at all times (*both for performing school and districts of any festivals it attends). Any festival host venue may refuse a school from using both a prop firearm and/or sound effect of a firearm being discharged. Individual festivals, including the State level, may impose additional regulations.
  2. The adult director/advisor must secure permission of both the principal and superintendent (or head of school for private schools) to use a firearm, and must:
    1. produce documentation of administration permission on school letterhead to the State Office before the school performs at the district festival, and also include:
    2. photographs of the prop firearm with a ruler, showing dimensions;
    3. specific stage directions describing how the firearm will be used on stage; and
    4. exactly what timeframe (minutes into the show, as well as how long) the firearm will be on stage, and exactly when it will be visible.
  3. No blanks can be used; all sounds must come from a recorded sound effect.
  4. Theatrical firearms should never be pointed at the audience (can be traumatic and may result in unpredictable reactions), nor should be pointed at someone on stage. Instead, the theatrical firearm should be pointed past the individual into a corridor of safety.
  • Consider your frame (how much of your body you want to be seen). At a minimum, make sure to show inches above your head to your belly button.
  • If performing a song, make sure you have a solid track to use for your accompaniment.
    • Pay an accompanist to record a track for you and send you an .mp3 file. Try reaching out to your local university's music or theatre department as a start.
    • Find a karaoke track online. Make sure there are no vocals on the track.
  • Consider where you're placing your "scene partner." You do not need to look straight into the camera.
  • You may use one straight back chair and one small table in your video; additional set pieces are not allowed.
  • Find an effective filming location
    • Area should be quiet so we can hear both you and your track (if applicable).
    • Film in front of a non-distracting background. If possible, choose a solid-color wall or consider hanging a sheet behind you. The color should contrast with your clothing.
    • Dress neatly, in all black clothing as written in the guidelines. No costumes.
    • Make sure you are lit enough to be clearly visible.
  • Reminders
    • Before filming, conduct a full-volume test to make sure you can be heard (and that your track can be heard).
    • Ensure your blocking is effective and visible when filmed. Consider whether to decrease your movement or to adjust your camera angle.
    • Shoot your video horizontally, not vertically.
    • Try multiple takes and submit your strongest.

 

  • Watch your video both before and after uploading to ensure it's what you want to share.
  • You will have two options for submitting your video.
    • Upload the video file directly into the submission form from your laptop or desktop.
    • Provide a URL to your video on YouTube.
      • The guide to using YouTube video editor is ​​​found here.
      • Give your video a clear name. Consider something like First Name Last Name – Event – Thespy Submission.
      • Make sure the video is listed as unlisted but check that the link will allow for open access to all adjudicators.
 

You will be asked to share your portfolio as you would for an in-person presentation. Please upload the material asked for in the submission form in accordance with the program guidelines.

  • Each of your samples should be clear and quality -- good production or process photos, or easily readable documents.
  • Uploads should be well-photographed or clearly readable. Though you will be able to expand in the written response, the sample should be able to speak for itself to a certain extent.

Use a file sharing service, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive. Be sure the sharing setting is enabled to allow anyone with the link to view the folder with your materials.

 

Visit the Theatre contests page for more information on our festival series, which runs from mid-October through mid-November.

The Theatre Handbook (linked on our Theatre Contests page) will provide all details, but in short:

  1. You have 40 minutes, bare stage to bare stage – this means bringing your set on stage and striking it from the stage are all part of timing.
  2. You construct and bring your own set/set pieces. Some schools do this quite elaborately, and have made an art form of choreographing placement of that set on stage at the festivals, and some schools are quite minimalist, and really focus on the deep psychology of performances. The beauty of our festival is no schools is compared with another; each performance is evaluated on its own merits. We universally suggest starting simple and mastering the basics before taking on more ambitious staging.
  3. Schools do their own costuming and make up, and this can be a way to visually enhance the production, while helping students identify their sense of characterizations. Same with props. How this all plays into the production is subject to critique.
  4. Since each production is subject to the amenities and limitations of lighting and sound at each host venue, less value is placed on these elements in the evaluation process, but anything that is significantly distracting or prevents an adjudicator from seeing/hearing the production effectively is subject to critique.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, or Debate Contests pages for a button/link that will take you to the online registration platform for registering. Each of those pages also will contain tutorial information on how to register. Most Middle Level contests handle registration directly through email, although some have moved to using SpeechWire; contact the host for more information (host contact information is available when clicking a particular contest in the Middle Level upcoming dates calendar.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, Debate Contests, or Middle Level contests pages for a list by date, including locations. Please note: each local area sets its own schedules, so the State Office posts these on our website only when we have been notified.

See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list. We do not have lists for specific regions of the state, because there's too much overlap between areas with contests schools attend.

Each summer, advisory committees for each activity meet to review the previous contest season and propose changes to the Board of Control. Contact us with concerns and/or suggestions, and we will forward these to the respective committee(s).

Speech FAQs

FAQs with asterisks (*) pertain to changes for the 2021-22 season.

  • High schools (grades 9-12) may participate upon joining the WHSFA.
  • Starting January 19 and due by two weeks prior to a school's subdistrict festival, all coaches must register online, with an accurate roster of adjudicators and student names, certifying interscholastic eligibility (usually handled by an athletic/activities director or an administrator), and assigning students to specific category entries. During that window of dates, coaches may log back in and make changes to registration, up until the cutoff date for changes set by each subdistrict manager/host. See SpeechWire registration instructions in the Speech Handbook (linked below). As part of the online registration process, coaches book a State Festival time slot (Friday evening or Saturday morning); these are available on a first come, first served basis.
  • Over the course of three rounds each entry must earn at least two scores of 16 or better to move on to the district level. This is done automatically through SpeechWire.
  • After subdistrict coaches have a brief window to drop students who have advanced but will not continue to participate, as well as to confirm or modify adjudicators they plan to have evaluate the district festival.
  • At the district festival, over the course of three rounds each entry must earn at least two scores of 21 or better to move on to the State level. This is done automatically through SpeechWire.
  • Coaches have a brief window to drop students who have advanced, but will not continue to participate at State, as well as to confirm or modify the adjudicators they plan to have evaluate at State.
  • Coaches will be able to designate whether their entire team or select students will participate in virtual asynchronous subdistrict, district, and/or State festivals. Any entry may move from in-person and virtual and vice versa between contest levels.
  • Each entry presents one round at the State festival. Entries earning 25 points earn a gold medal; entries earning 23-24 points earn a silver medal; entries earning 20-22 points earn a bronze medal; entries earning 5-19 points in a small bronze medal.

Each school can designate if most of its team will participate at an in-person contest, or if it prefers a virtual option for subdistrict, district, and State. Coaches also can designate individual entries to attend the virtual contest at any of those levels, as long as they also earmark adjudicators to accompany contestants at each contest in which they have participants.

All virtual contests will be asynchronous adjudication of prerecorded videos. There will be no live virtual option this year (just too much to manage in concert with return to in-person contests, especially considering how few schools participated live in 2020-21).

Each school/institution may have its own public health guidelines/restrictions in place, including, but not limited to: face coverings, social distancing, testing, vaccination, etc.  Each school/institution that hosts a WHSFA contest must register with the State Office (and provide any subsequent changes/updates) any public health requirements in place, and communicate to guest schools what is expected of their participants (students, coaches, adjudicators). Each guest school must adhere to host venue requirements or their own school's requirements, whichever is more restrictive. Schools whose students, adjudicators, and/or coaches fail to comply may be asked to leave the premises of the contest venue, and if students have not yet been fully evaluated, their school may submit a recorded virtual entry for evaluation, if within the deadline for asynchronous adjudication at that contest level.

Generally speaking, contests ask for one adjudicator for every five entries, or fraction thereof. Some contests require fewer or more. This means that if a school has 7 entries, it should bring two adjudicators. Some contests will allow schools to pay a fee for uncovered adjudicators, not because they have extras they can hire for a school, but to incentivize schools to bring their own adjudicators. It is a burden on any host when schools do not provide all of the adjudicators they are expected to. The State Festival requires one adjudicator for 1-8 entries, two adjudicators for 9-19 entries, and three adjudicators for 20-25 entries.

[New in 2021-22] Anytime a school participates at more than one venue (including online) during a particular contest level (subdistrict, district, State), it must provide adjudicators for each contest, in that contest’s ratio of adjudicators to entries (e.g., a school has 7 entries at its own subdistrict and 2 entries at a different subdistrict – it must supply two adjudicators for its own subdistrict and one adjudicator for the other subdistrict).

No. WHSFA has retired its pilot requirement for a printed list of Works Cited.  Instead, students must give clear in-speech citations of outside sources consulted, and adjudicators will hold students accountable for drawing information from credible sources.

Some in-person contests may offer contestants the ability to connect to their WIFI network to receive and edit their packet digitally. Students may not use that connection for any other purpose.

Students must have a SpeechWire account, created by their coach by inputting the student's email address in their account Roster. Students will log on at the contest and when it is time to draw, they will be able to access the electronic packet, which will be a link to a Google Doc file, which will prompt the student to copy the packet to their drive to begin editing.

Students using this option will be able to recite from their device when presenting to the adjudicator.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, Debate Contests, or Middle Level contests pages for a list by date, including locations. Please note: each local area sets its own schedules, so the State Office posts these on our website once we've been informed.

See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.
The WHSFA has traditionally not required a minimum time for presentations, although adjudicators are encouraged to evaluate development — or lack thereof — of each presentation. This should be evaluated in the criterion regarding development in speech categories, and in the criterion regarding understanding meaning in interpretive categories.
Material is allowable as long as it fits the literary genre prescribed in the rules for the particular category a contestant is participating in, and it meets content expectations of the contestant’s school/school district administration.  Please note that transcribed media, such as YouTube, are categorized by the genre of the source material being performed, and not by the mode of performance itself. This means if a YouTube performer is presenting a prose narrative, the material is categorized as prose, and NOT as drama. For more details on rules, please see the Speech Handbook on the Categories & Topics page. For contestants in Farrago and Solo Acting (Humorous or Serious), students also are required to perform quality material (see definition below), although this standard could be applied to any interpretive category. A side note: for schools participating in national qualifying contests, such as those offered by the NSDA and NCFL, there are more stringent rules pertaining to how the material is published, and coaches should consult those rules, accordingly. Finally, we annotated the descriptions on the Categories & Topics page to include allowed genre(s) for each category.

Quality material is defined as that which “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” It is recommended that such material be sought for all interpretive categories, even if there is no specific evaluation item related to selection of material.

First, review the definition above for quality material. This is a great standard to apply to literary material in all interpretive categories. Start by asking students books they’ve read (on their own and/or in classes) or movies/television shows they’ve viewed that resonated with them. Ask what current issues in society are important to them. Knowing students’ interests helps you find material they can be passionate about, which will come through in their performance. The school library is a great place to start. In fact, some librarians have a limited budget for acquiring new materials, so they may have a catalogue of plays and other materials. The public library is another place to look, and asking English and theatre teachers for ideas can be helpful. Be wary of vendors who publish literature for “contest” or “classroom” performance, since these often lack the depth of what can be found in other works of literature the student would need to cut to contest length. The process of cutting can be a tremendous learning experience for students, as they determine what themes and character qualities they wish to cultivate in their performances.

Drama is literature with line attributions to particular characters and with stage directions, such as a play. Dramatic literature is not allowed in Group Interpretive Reading, and is required in Play Acting.

No. Adapting other genres of literature (such as novels or poetry) abuses copyright/intellectual property rights of the material’s original author. We have been asked if an adaptation of another’s work fits the definition of “original,” and the answer is no. Those concepts and ideas are still the intellectual property of the original author. Fortunately, we have a Group Interpretive Reading category, where works of literature that are not drama are perfectly suitable for performance.

No. A transcription not provided by the originator of the material is a violation of copyright law.

Plays written in dramatic verse (such as Shakespeare's or Sophocles') are dramatic literature, and as such, must be performed in categories where drama/plays are allowed. They are not considered poems, per se, even though they are written in meter/verse. Therefore, they should not be performed in high school Group Interpretive Reading, but may be used in Middle Level Readers Theatre, since that category allows for dramatic literature.

Song lyrics are poetry, unless the song comes from a stage or film musical (e.g., Hamilton, or The Greatest Showman) -- then they're considered drama (dramatic literature). The exception would be a song that existed prior to its incorporation in a musical (e.g., "Dancing Queen" in Mamma Mia! or "Rhythm of the Night" in Moulin Rouge).

In Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, "material shall be a cutting from serious or humorous drama or other literature adapted to the dramatic format with brief narrative transitions…” Stand-up comedy is often not published in print form, and students should not transcribe directly from a performance.

In Farrago and Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, quality material is required, which “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” It is recommended that such material be sought for all performance of literature categories, even if there is no specific evaluation item related to selection of material.

The rules are silent with regard to touching the floor or lying on the floor. It is a choice performers may make. Although students may not be disqualified for touching the floor, judges can take movement into consideration in the overall evaluation of a student’s performance.

In interpretive categories, if contestants wear clothing implied for a particular character or described in the script, that is a costume. In group categories, merely dressing alike does not constitute a costume, unless the script calls for it (such as characters who are twins). In speech categories, if a student is wearing the attire called for by a particular occasion or topic, that is a costume. However, in Demonstration Speaking, students should wear attire appropriate to what is being demonstrated.

When initial Speech registration opens on SpeechWire (see the Speech Contests page), coaches will be able to immediately book a State Speech slot for Friday or Saturday, on a first come, first served basis. This is to allow planning and ensure enough classrooms for each contest round at the UW-Madison campus. Schools who plan to have more than 4 entries combined between Group Interpretive Reading and Play Acting must book a Saturday slot.

Depending on what part of the state a high school is in, it may have a number of types of Speech (forensics) contests for students to participate in:
  • WHSFA Subdistrict, District, and State. This is the official qualification series for Wisconsin's oldest and largest -- by far -- contest. Each year, 5,000+ students (grades 9-12) perform in three rounds at one of 55 subdistrict contests around the state (each subdistrict has about 5-12 schools). Students need at least two scores of 16 or better to qualify from subdistrict to district. At district, students perform in three rounds at one of 12 district contests (some of the twelve are split into two contests for the sake of logistics and geographic accessibility), where they must earn at least two scores of 20 or better to qualify from district to State. At State, students perform in one around at UW-Madison, and the score they earn determines the medal they are awarded. The vast majority of Wisconsin schools who participate in forensic Speech activities participate in just these three contests.
  • Conference. Some (not all) of the athletic conferences around the state run their own conference meet, where the same schools who compete with one another in athletic sports also compete in Speech. Many of these use accumulated points by students to determine a school's overall standing amongst its peers, while others run a full competitive tournament, where students are comparatively ranked against one another, rather than assessed on their own merits.
  • Invitational. This is an independent contest put on by the school hosting it, or in partnership with a school administering the contest at a nearby school. While the name implies it is by "invitation only," in most cases, any school who wishes to participate is invited to bring students. When a coach notifies the WHSFA State Office, we are happy to post the contest on our calendar, provided it uses WHSFA rules (limited deviations are allowed). The Wisconsin Forensic Coaches' Association (WFCA) is a volunteer-run league with separate dues, which offers an organized circuit of weekly invitational Speech tournaments that follow a set of rules originally adopted from WHSFA (which, over the years, has evolved independently); these tournaments have no bearing on qualification to the WFCA's open-invitational state tournament.
  • NSDA District Qualifier. The National Speech & Debate Association (previously, National Forensic League) was founded in Wisconsin as an honorary society, later adding a national tournament. Top-placing students from 100+ geographic districts across the United States as well as internationally qualify to participate in the world's largest academic competition, held over the course of a week in mid-June. The tournament is considered the Olympics of speech and debate, and its gala awards ceremony is considered the Oscars of our activity.
  • NCFL Diocesan Qualifier. The National Catholic Forensic League offers an additional competition experience of national caliber -- held over a condensed but grueling schedule during the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Local leagues and their qualifying tournaments are loosely arranged by Catholic diocesan boundaries, though the vast majority of membership is comprised of public schools (non-Catholic/other private schools may belong, as well). Each diocesan league sets its own qualification requirements.
As stated above, while there may be various opportunities in a particular area, a school may just participate in subdistrict, district, and State, and still offer students a robust experience. Confused as to how to get started in any of these, or who to contact? Contact the WHSFA State Office, and we'll help you get connected!

This rule applies to in-person seasons, and has been suspended for the virtual 2021 season.

A school may register up to 30 entries overall, for their squad, with up to four (4) entries in any category (including four in each of Farrago, Poetry, and Prose), with the following additional limitations:

 

  • No more than four (4) entries in Solo Acting Humorous and Serious, combined.
  • No more than six (6) entries in Group Interpretive Reading and Play Acting (and no more than four in each). If a school brings 5 or 6 group entries to the State Festival, it must attend on Saturday.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, or Debate Contests pages for a button/link that will take you to the online registration platform for registering. Each of those pages also will contain tutorial information on how to register. Most Middle Level contests handle registration directly through email, although some have moved to using SpeechWire; contact the host for more information (host contact information is available when clicking a particular contest in the Middle Level upcoming dates calendar.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, Debate Contests, or Middle Level contests pages for a list by date, including locations. Please note: each local area sets its own schedules, so the State Office posts these on our website only when we have been notified.

All these steps must be followed, for legal/liability reasons, as well as to ensure students do not fall through the cracks for tracking advancement through the festival series.

  1. The head coach must request permission of the district chair.
  2. Inquire with the different festival manager/host if they have space.
  3. Enter the request for a different festival in SpeechWire.
  4. Whether the coach is requesting for the whole team, or for individual entry(ies), the coach is required to accompany students -- or another school district employee or vetted school district volunteer may go in the coach's place. Contestants will NOT be allowed to perform without a school official present. Parents are not allowed to fulfill this role unless they have gone through a background check and been vetted by the school as a recognized volunteer.
  5. (New for 2021) The coach must provide adjudicators as required by the ratio of adjudicators to entries for that different contest.

See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.

Please review the PDF handbook for your particular activity, which has a number of resources and suggestions. We also compiled a Speech Festival Manager Info page, with instructions on using the SpeechWire contest management website/software.
Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA. **WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities. Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws: SECTION III: Membership Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:
  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list. We do not have lists for specific regions of the state, because there's too much overlap between areas with contests schools attend.

Each summer, advisory committees for each activity meet to review the previous contest season and propose changes to the Board of Control. Contact us with concerns and/or suggestions, and we will forward these to the respective committee(s).

Middle Level FAQs

FAQs with asterisks (*) pertain to changes for the 2021-22 season.

  • School with middle level grades 6-8 may participate upon joining the WHSFA.
  • Starting in early December and due by three weeks prior to the Level 1 festival a school is attending, coaches must register online, with an accurate roster of adjudicators and student names, certifying interscholastic eligibility (usually handled by an athletic/activities director or an administrator), and assigning students to specific category entries. During that window of dates, coaches may log back in and make changes to registration, until the cutoff date for changes set by the Level 1 host. See SpeechWire registration instructions in the Middle Level Handbook.
  • All students who participate at a Level 1 festival are eligible to participate at a Level 2 festival; there is no longer a qualifying threshold.
  • After Level 1, coaches have a brief window to drop students who have advanced, but will not continue to participate, as well as to confirm or modify the adjudicators they plan to have evaluate the Level 2 festival.
  • Award ribbons: at each festival, students will earn a ribbon signifying their achievement by ratings:
    • At Level 1, at least two ratings of Excellence will earn an entry a Yellow ribbon; otherwise, it will be awarded at Green ribbon.
    • At Level 2, at least two ratings of Excellence will earn an entry a Blue ribbon; otherwise, it will be awarded a Red ribbon.

Invitationals (including one run by WHSFA) will have separate registration, but also using SpeechWire.

Each school/institution may have its own public health guidelines/restrictions in place, including, but not limited to: face coverings, social distancing, testing, vaccination, etc.  Each school/institution that hosts a WHSFA contest must register with the State Office (and provide any subsequent changes/updates) any public health requirements in place, and communicate to guest schools what is expected of their participants (students, coaches, adjudicators). Each guest school must adhere to host venue requirements or their own school's requirements, whichever is more restrictive. Schools whose students, adjudicators, and/or coaches fail to comply may be asked to leave the premises of the contest venue, and if students have not yet been fully evaluated, their school may submit a recorded virtual entry for evaluation, if within the deadline for asynchronous adjudication at that contest level.

The WHSFA has traditionally not required a minimum time for presentations, although adjudicators are encouraged to evaluate development — or lack thereof — of each presentation. This should be evaluated in the criterion regarding development in speech categories, and in the criterion regarding understanding meaning in interpretive categories.

Material is allowable as long as it fits the literary genre prescribed in the rules for the particular category a contestant is participating in, and it meets content expectations of the contestant’s school/school district administration.  Please note that transcribed media, such as YouTube, are categorized by the genre of the source material being performed, and not by the mode of performance itself. This means if a YouTube performer is presenting a prose narrative, the material is categorized as prose, and NOT as drama. For more details on rules, please see the Middle Level Handbook.  Finally, we annotated the descriptions on the Categories & Topics page to include allowed genre(s) for each category.

Start by asking students books they’ve read (on their own and/or in classes) or movies/television shows they’ve viewed that resonated with them. Ask what current issues in society are important to them. Knowing students’ interests helps you find material they can be passionate about, which will come through in their performance. The school library is a great place to start. In fact, some librarians have a limited budget for acquiring new materials, so they may have a catalogue of plays and other materials. The public library is another place to look, and asking English and theatre teachers for ideas can be helpful. Be wary of vendors who publish literature for “contest” or “classroom” performance, since these often lack the depth of what can be found in other works of literature the student would need to cut to contest length. The process of cutting can be a tremendous learning experience for students, as they determine what themes and character qualities they wish to cultivate in their performances.

No. A transcription not provided by the originator of the material is a violation of copyright law.

In Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, "material shall be a cutting from serious or humorous drama or other literature adapted to the dramatic format with brief narrative transitions…” Stand-up comedy is often not published in print form, and students should not transcribe directly from a performance.

In Farrago and Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, quality material is required, which “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” It is recommended that such material be sought for all performance of literature categories, even if there is no specific evaluation item related to selection of material.

Drama is literature with line attributions to particular characters and with stage directions, such as a play. Dramatic literature is not allowed in Group Interpretive Reading, and is required in Play Acting.

No. Adapting other genres of literature (such as novels or poetry) abuses copyright/intellectual property rights of the material’s original author. We have been asked if an adaptation of another’s work fits the definition of “original,” and the answer is no. Those concepts and ideas are still the intellectual property of the original author. Fortunately, we have a Readers Theatre category, where works of literature that are not drama are perfectly suitable for performance.

Song lyrics are poetry, unless the song comes from a stage or film musical (e.g., Hamilton, or The Greatest Showman) -- then they're considered drama (dramatic literature). The exception would be a song that existed prior to its incorporation in a musical (e.g., "Dancing Queen" in Mamma Mia! or "Rhythm of the Night" in Moulin Rouge).

Plays written in dramatic verse (such as Shakespeare's or Sophocles') are dramatic literature, and as such, must be performed in categories where drama/plays are allowed. They are not considered poems, per se, even though they are written in meter/verse. Therefore, they should not be performed in high school Group Interpretive Reading, but may be used in Middle Level Readers Theatre, since that category allows for dramatic literature.

The rules are silent with regard to touching the floor or lying on the floor. It is a choice performers may make. Although students may not be disqualified for touching the floor, judges can take movement into consideration in the overall evaluation of a student’s performance.

In interpretive categories, if contestants wear clothing implied for a particular character or described in the script, that is a costume. In group categories, merely dressing alike does not constitute a costume, unless the script calls for it (such as characters who are twins). In speech categories, if a student is wearing the attire called for by a particular occasion or topic, that is a costume. However, in Demonstration Speaking, students should wear attire appropriate to what is being demonstrated.

In education circles, middle level is a universal term encompassing middle schools, junior high schools, intermediate schools/K-8 schools with grades 6-8 as the focal point for participation in forensic Speech contests. WHSFA has two progressive levels of contests we offer for middle level students:

  1. Level 1: The official festival a student participates in. S/he must earn at least two grades/scores of “A” to move on to Level 2 (receiving a commemorative certificate for that achievement. Otherwise, s/he earns a participation certificate.
  2. Level 2: The second and final official contest a student participates in. S/he must earn at least two grades/scores of “A” to receive a blue ribbon; otherwise, s/he earns a red ribbon.

Upon joining the WHSFA, any given student can only participate in one official Level 1 and one official Level 2 contest per school year. Schools also may participate in invitational, or "practice" contests, which are run independently of the WHSFA, but often use the WHSFA's contest categories, rules, and evaluation sheets. Those do not count as official, however, and there is no limit to how many a school may participate in. Schools are not required to attend a specific contest in their geographic region, and some contests are limited in how many schools/entries they can accept, because their facilities may not accommodate everyone interested in attending. In those cases, we recommend other schools step forward to host contests as well.

There are no per-category, nor overall entry limits for Middle Level Speech, although certain festivals may have limitations on capacity in their school buildings. We do encourage schools to distribute their entries across different categories to maximize the educational experiences students receive.

Generally speaking, contests ask for one adjudicator for every five entries, or fraction thereof. Some contests require fewer or more. This means that if a school has 7 entries, it should bring two adjudicators. Some contests will allow schools to pay a fee for uncovered adjudicators, not because they have extras they can hire for a school, but to incentivize schools to bring their own adjudicators. It is a burden on any host when schools do not provide all of the adjudicators they are expected to.

Please review the PDF handbook for your particular activity, which has a number of resources and suggestions. We also compiled a Speech Festival Manager Info page, with instructions on using the SpeechWire contest management website/software.

 

The state office provides copies for official Level 1 and 2 festivals; however, festival managers may request a stipend in lieu of these copies, when completing the festival materials request form (see the Middle Level Contests page for more information).

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list. We do not have lists for specific regions of the state, because there's too much overlap between areas with contests schools attend.

Each summer, advisory committees for each activity meet to review the previous contest season and propose changes to the Board of Control. Contact us with concerns and/or suggestions, and we will forward these to the respective committee(s).

High School + Middle Level Virtual Speech FAQs

If you are submitting a videorecording of a student performances, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students.
If you are submitting a videorecording of a student performances, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students.

Coaches must be mindful of copyright concerns with performance of works of literature. If students upload videos themselves, they should NOT share that link/video with anyone else. The best way for coaches to avoid issues is to upload videos files themselves.

This is subject to each school's public health protocols; adjudicators will be told to evaluate each entry on its own merits and not consider the presence or absence of such protocols are part of their evaluation.

Yes, absolutely. Adjudicators will be expressly told not to deduct any points for that.

The file format should be: .mp4

Use a free tool (for up to 25 videos per day), such as CloudConvert (which is entirely cloud-based and can be run in your web browser), to convert video files to MP4.

Coaches will be expected to review all videos before they are submitted and to work through tech issues with students. Adjudicators also will be told to explicitly NOT take sound/video quality into account in their evaluation, however, if they cannot hear nor see the student, it may be difficult for them to evaluate effectively; in those cases, such entries will be considered a "no-show."

Coaches are responsible for ensuring the link from any video or file sharing platform is viewable by anyone, so adjudicators can see the presentations. Do NOT use links shared directly/privately to a specific email address, as those will not be accessible to the various adjudicators who attempt to access the link from SpeechWire.

1. In the top right corner, click Share.

2. Click "Get shareable link" in the top right of the "Share with others" box.

3. To choose whether a person can view, comment, or edit the file, click the Down arrow next to "Anyone with the link." .

4. Note that the link may default to be viewable by individuals within your school/institution. To expand access to outside of your school/institution, click the Down arrow next to "Anyone at [name of institution]…” and select “More” and select Anyone with the link.

5. Click the button, Copy link. Paste the link in an email or anywhere you want to share it.

In SpeechWire, use the Video links and titles page:

  • For Middle Level 1, and High School Subdistrict, this will be part of the Initial/Subdistrict or Initial/Level 1 Registration area.
  • For Middle Level 2, and High School District and State, this will be part of re-registration/confirmation in the virtual contest area for each of those levels, respectively.

One for each contest level; except three for each of the following (one per round):

Middle Level & High School:  Extemporaneous Speech

High School only: Impromptu Speech, Radio News Reporting, and Storytelling.

If absolutely necessary, a student may re-submit the same video for different levels, although we hope students take adjudicator feedback to improve their performance for subsequent levels

Mobile phone and tablet devices (or even laptops) are allowable only for virtual contests, when students are unable to print, but that students should practice using such devices, so that they are comfortable and can still engage in “eye contact” with the camera when recording. We will include guidance to adjudicators that this is allowable, but subject to critique (for poise, but not outright lowering score just because the student didn't have the type of manuscript an adjudicator prefers).

WHSFA will provides 3 sets (1 per round) of radio packets/extemp. questions to coaches about a week prior to the video submission deadline. The coach arranges times with each contestant (in-person, via videoconference, or via message) to share radio packet or five questions, of which the contestant will select one. A video of that contestant’s presentation for each round should be recorded and finalized with coach within 45 minutes (to allow time for technical considerations). The coach does not need to video record prep time.

Coaches should use these questions and arrange a time with each contestant (in-person, via videoconference, or via message) to share five questions, of which the contestant will select one. A video of that contestant’s presentation should be recorded and finalized with the coach within 45 minutes (to allow time for technical considerations). The coach should note the five questions shown to the student for Level 1 and ensure five different questions are shared with the student for Level 2.

WHSFA provides 3 sets (1 per round), to coaches about a week prior to the video submission deadline. For each of the three rounds, the coach will arrange times to record each contestant (either in-person or via videoconference), present contestant with three prompts, and will begin recording and timing once the contestant selects their prompt, reciting it aloud.

Students will record a story for each of three areas, submitted by the coach, with each story assigned to a different round for adjudication. For State, students will select one of the three to perform.

As part of annual update of their student rosters in SpeechWire, coaches will be asked to provide an email address for each participating student. This could be a school-provided email address for students, or a special personal email address created by the student for purposes of participation. SpeechWire will create student accounts linked to those email addresses, which students will use to log in and view asynchronous, pre-recorded video entries of peers assigned to the same "rooms" each round, just as they would see those performances at an in-person festival. For synchronous rounds, the student's SpeechWire account will log them into a videoconference room where they will gather with other contestants and the adjudicator for their round. For safety and security, only contestants and adjudicators will have access to any asynchronous or synchronous rounds; family/friends/other guests will not, unless they watch in the same room with their student when their student is logged on.

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