Students from Holmen and Onalaska high schools made a strong showing at the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association’s State Speech Festival April 19-20 in Madison, with 25 local students earning awards.

High school forensics might not be the most glamorous extracurricular out there, but it teaches students skills they’ll need in their careers.

Holmen forensics coach Kam-Lin Roswall describes forensics as an opportunity for students to express themselves in a variety of manners in front of a larger audience.

“Its hard for people to speak in front of others,” Holmen senior Anna Sibenaller said. But it comes with the “added bonus of building new friendships.”

“I’m still pretty good friends with someone from Onalaska,” she said.

Eight-thousand students from across the state participated in this year’s competition.

To get to state, the students had to first compete at the district level in three rounds of presentations.

Once at state, the students only get one shot.

“State is a one and done deal,” Roswall said.

Each student works on a single speech all the way through the festival. At the beginning of the season the coaches help the students get things started, but then the students are largely on their own.

“We help them choose their pieces and kind of figure out who is going to do what,” Onalaska High School forensics coach Lisa Reimler said, but “it really lies on their shoulders.”

Students mostly practice on their own or in small groups, meeting with their coaches once or twice a week.

Forensics is actually easier at the end of the season when the students have had a long time to perfect their presentations, Sibenaller said. But the competition does get a bit more intense along the way.

Onalaska sent five students to the festival. Originally, 10 of the teams 14 members had qualified for state, but some students had scheduling conflicts. Senior Jenna Malzacher gave a presentation called a “farrago” on the suppression of women.

A farrago is a speech that develops a central theme using several pieces of literature from various genre.

“I really like public speaking and being in front of people” she said. For her efforts, Malzacher was awarded a silver “All State” medal. “Things went really well,” she said “I was one point away from getting a perfect score.”

Two of Malzacher’s teammates did get perfect scores. Mackayla Harding received the gold “Critics Choice” award for her demonstration on how to construct a tutu, and Maria Bertrand also earned a gold medal for her prose reading of a piece titled “Bank Holiday.”

The other two members of the Onalaska team to go to state, Liz Trueblood and Aasma Ahmed, each received the silver “All State” medal.

Holmen High school’s showing at the state festival was a bit larger. The Holmen team has 25 members, the largest number a team is allowed to take to state. Twenty of them advanced to the state festival.

“Holmen always has a full team,” said forensics coach Roswall. “We have one of the larger teams in the area.”

The team achieved a great deal of success, too.

Sibenaller gave a 6-minute maid of honor speech in the speaking on special occasions category. She earned the gold medal. Sibenaller has competed all four years. She earned silver her freshman and sophomore years and a gold her junior year.

In all, the Holmen team earned six gold medals, 11 silver medals and three bronze medals.

For these students, it’s not just about the public speaking aspect, either. Onalaska’s Malzacher, who will be attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in the fall, said her year in forensics has helped her prepare for college.

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