IHSSA Speech Contest

IHSSA SpeechEvery year, thousands of Iowa students take part in the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA) Individual and Large Group speech contests. Beginning in January, these events challenge the best of the best performers in various disciplines, many related to theatrical pursuits. One of the veterans of this process is Stacy Hansen, currently in charge of the Speech and Drama departments at Valley High School in West Des Moines, and also a “Coach-at-Large” for the IHSSA.

Large Journey

“My own love for speech/theatre education began on a farm in Exira in Southwest Iowa,” says Hansen. “Amidst rolling hills and plenty of ‘students’ in the form of cats, calves, and reluctant chickens, I was privy to lots of ‘make believe and pretend’ and always a good story found itself--unexpectedly--to me.  I’m grateful to my forever teacher models:  Ms. Allison Berryhill and Mrs. Anderson who believed in me and nurtured my farm girl  ‘voice’.”

Stacy Hansen“When the IHSSA Family first welcomed me in 1984 as a freshman,  I immediately fell in love with the camaraderie, the optimistic energy, and the kind support the IHSSA offers to all. At Iowa State, I was active onstage as well as off in all things theatrical and majored in Speech/Theatre Education. I expanded my journey in speech and theatre at Chicago’s College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University where I earned my MA in Theatre Directing.”

After teaching at Clinton High School for 8 years, Hansen arrived at Valley HS in West Des Moines, when she has been their IHSSA Director and Drama Director. “In this position, I have been blessed to assist students as they pursue excellence in speech and theatre activities.  I am a most grateful member of the IHSSA where the focus is always on the spirit, the success, and the soulful safety of the student. The IHSSA continues to be my work fulfillment.”

Large Community

Speech HallwayThe sheer scale of each year’s events is something most people aren’t aware of. There are both Individual and Large Group components, with different gatherings for each. Just looking at Large Group (since that’s the most “theatre” oriented group), District competitions are being held in 16 different schools across the state on January 19, typically lasting all day. (Des Moines public schools will be performing at Ankeny Centennial HS this year, while Waukee travels to Perry for District competition, and WDM Dowling, Indianola, and Norwalk all head south to Osceola.) Numerous categories and performances are judged, with upwards of twenty different school teams participating in everything from One-Act Plays to Musical Theatre to Group Improv events, plus a multitude of assorted supporters, parents, and interested onlookers attending. 

Busy HallHansen certainly hopes everyone will come and enjoy the events. “The culture is most positively one for the whole family! Whole family inclusive of neighbors, grandparents, co-workers, and friends and theatre goers and any one wishing to view high school students abounding with goodness!  An incredibly crowded weekend is a most beautiful and welcoming problem to have! We’ll take that one, any day!! OH YEAH!!”

“My first speech contest was in 1984 as a student of Exira High School. During that time, there might be a couple of people in the room for a choral reading--the coach and a few friends of the performers. Today, we often times have standing room only for spectators.  Families schedule their calendars based on the IHSSA calendar!!”

Large Planning

Ratings ReportNot only does Hansen fulfill the role of “Coach-at-Large” for the IHSAA (serving as a support resource for various coaches and teachers across the state), this year she’s also co-ordinating the State event at Valley High School on February 2. Qualified performers from the District events advance to State level competition at 4 locations across Iowa. Hansen is expecting 3000 students at her site alone... and that’s just counting the participants! Add in fellow students, family and friends, support staff and judges/coaches, and the general public, and you have an almost overwhelming number of people to deal with. But Hansen has been through this before, and is ready for any situation, large (group) or small....

“Logistically, we try to arrange rooms and placement of room within the school with grace and anticipation,” she says. “Choral Reading and Readers Theatre each can have up to 15 participants...accompanied by family and friends and stuff (blocks, crates, risers, benches, etc), so these categories demand a big big room. Too, we know that Musical Theatre is a category of moxie and has great following. So, we strategically put that category in rooms where there is an entrance on one side and an exit door on the opposite side of the room to keep the traffic flow in check. Too, we try to balance when a center “breaks” for lunch or has a short break, so that not everyone is on break at the same time.  A fun sudoku puzzle on the contest manager’s part!!”

Banner YearTwo weeks later, the annual All-State Festival is held in Ames, with the best-of-the-best performing at various locations across the city (including Fisher Theatre and other buildings in the Iowa State Center, plus the Ames City Auditorium). Shuttle buses run between locations for performers and attendees. And at the end of it all, one performance in each category is deemed the Critic’s Choice, and takes home the IHSSA banner for that event for the year.

While Hansen has the highest hopes of achievement for her students, she also keeps an educator’s perspective, and tries to pass that on to everyone involved. “The focus must stay on the process of students vs. obtaining All-State recognition. As artists and educators, it’s important for us to recognize the process vs. the final product and to ensure our students know the difference between the two. There are over 40,000 students that find a home in the IHSSA. Each one of those lives is important to our family--whether they are a four-year All-Stater or a first time participant at the District Contest.”

Speech Directions“The IHSSA offers education for all. The personal relationships that develop among students, directors, and schools continue to fuel my passion for teaching and directing speech and drama activities. Opportunities exist for all to learn from every school and every performance, from every director, and from every individual student. I appreciate teaching in Iowa where speech, drama, and art activities are welcomed by school administrators and communities all around.”

The IHSSA Large Group Speech Contest begins with District events at various locations on Saturday February 19. State events (including those at Valley High School in WDM) are held on February 2, with Large Group All-State in Ames on February 16. Then, if you want to experience the Individual IHSSA events, those start with Districts a week later, and then State and All-State festival held at UNI in Cedar Falls at the end of March. Information on all these gatherings, including dates and locations, can be found through the IHSSA website.

IHSSA Stacy Hansen Large Group