Cancellation of Speech Festivals
March 12, 2020: It is with a heavy heart we must announce cancellation of ALL speech festivals – district and State – for the remainder of the season. Today, Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency, and in accordance, we are required to cancel our events. Coaches: please communicate to any adjudicators you've hired that festivals are cancelled. With uncertainty and limited time between now and the end of the school year, there are no reasonable means to plan and execute an alternate timeline for festival dates or locations. Several other states have cancelled their State Speech contests, so this is, indeed, an extraordinary situation.
Three-Year Gold Medalist Award
For the 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 school years, the Four-Year Speech Gold Medalist Award is suspended; instead, a special Three-Year Gold Medalist Award will be available for 12th graders who have earned three Gold Medals at the State Speech Festival, and who advanced to the District level in 2020. This ensures current 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students have the same opportunity to list on their résumés that they earned a perfect score at 100% of the State Speech festivals they attended.
How Our Speech Contest Series Works
- High schools (grades 9-12) may participate upon joining the WHSFA.
- By early January, schools should be notified by their district chair as to which subdistrict they have been assigned (dates and locations for subdistricts are available above).
NOTE: Invitational festivals or tournaments — as well as regional athletic conference tournaments — are run independently of the WHSFA, and are subject to registration and other protocols established by those respective host schools.
- By the end of January, 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 same window, coaches may log back in and make changes to registration, up until three weeks prior to the subdistrict festival. 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.
- The State Office will share registration information — as well as a supply of evaluation sheets, radio scripts, and extemporaneous speaking questions — with each subdistrict host, who will use that to schedule and prepare each festival.
- At the subdistrict festival, 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. Using the SpeechWire interface, subdistrict hosts will report advancing entries immediately following their contests, which district chairs will subsequently use to schedule the district festival.
- Coaches will have a brief window to drop students who have advanced, but will not continue to participate after subdistrict, as well as to confirm or modify the adjudicators they plan to bring to 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. Using the SpeechWire interface, district hosts will report advancing entries immediately following their contests, which will be used to schedule the State Festival.
- Coaches will 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 bring to State.
- Each entry presents for 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.
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.
See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.
When initial Speech registration opens on SpeechWire (see the Speech Contests page), coaches will be able to immediately book a slot, on a first come, first served basis. This is to ensure enough classrooms for each contest round at the UW-Madison campus. Time slot options include Friday at 5:30pm and 7:00pm, and Saturday at 9:30am and 11:00am. Schools who plan to have more than 4 entries combined between Group Interpretive Reading and Play Acting must book a Saturday slot.
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.
Your district chair can tell you; we do not publish a list, because the number of schools fluctuates from year to year in some areas, especially as new schools join, or schools leave the WHSFA.
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.
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.
- The head coach must request permission of the district chair.
- Inquire with the different festival manager/host if they have space.
- Enter the request for a different festival in SpeechWire.
- 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. The person accompanying students also should serve as an adjudicator, and as such, must be certified. It is considered rude to request to bring entries to a different festival, but not serve as an adjudicator.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. This is 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!