Eloquent students

Andy Abens and Heath Nimbe, both students at Manson Northwest High School, got to be something unusual Saturday at the District Large Group Speech Contest held at the Fort Dodge Senior High.

“We’re dead pirates,” Abens said.

As part of a group of students performing in the Choral Reading division, they played the part wearing ghoulish makeup and costumes.

All because they were less than kind to an infant that was protected by a sea witch’s mark.

“We can never die,” Nimbe said. “We’re cursed.”

The only thing they didn’t bring along for the performance of the “Black Mark,” written by their instructor, Kim Keller, was a real baby. Instead, they used a doll.

As part of the judging at the contest, the students are given both oral and written feedback.

“I appreciate it a lot,” Nimbe said. “You put it back in and make it even better.”

Fort Dodge Senior High junior Jamila Shing-Hon, 17, and senior Madeline Ascherl, 18, performed two poems in the duet category.

The first, about two women from Chile, one poor, the other wealthy, dealt with poverty and revolution. The second, called “Melissa and James,” is about a transgender student’s search for identity.

“It’s on the edge,” Shing-Hon said. “We liked it. We were moved when we saw the video.”

Ascherl has been participating in speech for three years. In fact, she plans on majoring in acting.

She enjoys performing, particularly slam poetry, she said.

“It’s a release of emotion. You invest your heart into something.”

For Shing-Hon, it has helped her overcome a stuttering problem.

“Theater helped,” she said.

The students who participate take away a number of skills from the experience.

Justin Koski, assistant speech coach at Carroll High School, said his students improve their public speaking skills and gain confidence. Those translate well into the students’ college and career paths.

But it’s a two-way street.

“I learn as much from them as they do from me,” he said.

Of course, the audience might learn a bit too.

A group of his students, including Bryce Widel, 15, were performing the one-act play “How to Kiss a Girl.”

Do learn how to do that?

“Most definitely,” Widel said.

After her Radio Broadcast performance, Fort Dodge sophomore Allison Waychoff stuck around and volunteered her time as a timer for judge John Smith, of Lake City.

She earned a II rating on her performance.

“Two is good, but it needs a little improvement,” she said.

That improvement?

“We sounded more like a report you’d give a teacher,” she said. “Not something you would hear on the radio.”

Smith said that’s exactly why he’s there.

“They can use it to improve for the next contest,” he said.

He’s seen a few of those: 15-year judge is printed on his name badge.

“It’s actually 21,” Smith said. “They haven’t got me a new badge.”

Lindsay Mickelson, of Des Moines, came back to help judge the contest. She was once on the other side of the bench.

“It’s kind of fun to be on the other side of the table,” she said. “It’s great to be a mentor.”