In seven minutes, three young men managed to examine father and daughter relationships, exercise military chain of command, blow up the sun and – worst of all – kill Chewbacca, the lovable Wookie from “Star Wars.”
No, these young men aren’t terrorists or big game hunters. They are members of the Newton Senior High School Speech team and were practicing an improv skit in preparation for district competition on Saturday Feb. 23, weather permitting.
One of the aforementioned young Wookie killers is Jackson Forck, a sophomore in his second year as a member of the speech team. He is a member of the all-state radio broadcast team, does individual improv and participates in an event called, “After Dinner Speaking.”
“It’s just a really funny speech,” Frock said. “You pick a topic and you pretty much complain to your audience, in a funny way. Mine is about siblings, specifically my little sister. First, I’m just complaining about my little sister, then I end it with my, ‘Now my dad is remarried, so I get a lot of step-siblings.’”
Frock, like most members of the team, got into speech because he always liked acting and because his friends are here. His mother was a former speech assistant at other schools and he grew up watching “Whose Line is it Anyway.”
Now for those of you are confused as to why the speech team involves acting and radio broadcast, the backing organization, the Iowa Interscholastic Speech Association, gives more more background in their Forward and Directive Statement:
“This organization is so designed that, as time goes on and the need is felt for other types of speech activities, they may be added. While visible work of the Association is carried on through a series of contests, the fundamental philosophy of the Association has a much deeper basis. The philosophy is built upon the belief that no form of activity is any more important than that of learning to speak effectively.”
Those beliefs are shared by Cara Schwarz, who serves as the primary coach along with assistant Will Edgar and an unofficial assistant coach in senior Tim Stammeyer. Schwarz has seen a lot of change in her second year as coach, and is glad she stepped up to take the job.
“I was new to Newton Schools last year,” Schwarz said. “They were going to cut the program if they couldn’t find a coach. Tim here is really great at speaking and he was into speech, so I didn’t want him to lose out on that. I went to him and said, ‘If you help me, I will coach it, because I don’t know what I’m doing’ and he kind of coached me through coaching last year.”
“We got through it together” Stammeyer added.
Schwarz learned her job on the fly and has transformed herself as a coach. At the same practice where Chewbacca was burned alive, she seemed the consummate professional. She brings snacks for the kids – “kids are always hungry after school,” she quipped – and monitors times with her iPhone and a giant foam die. She provides both informative and critical feedback to her students and she even uses her job teaching middle school at Berg as a means to recruit eighth graders for next year.
“I was in speech one year in high school,” Schwarz said. “I went from a rookie to getting kids to All-State. Tim (is the reason that happened). Last year in large group, we had five events that went into districts, and out of those five we had four that went to state and one that went to all-state.”
The catalyst in the team’s recent success seems to be Stammeyer. He wrote the team’s radio broadcast and anchored their now defunct news broadcast group, has been on the team for four years, helps bring order to the laughter-filled practices and has absolutely no shame in doing whatever it takes to get you to laugh.
“Originally, as a freshman, I kind of got dragged here,” Stammeyer said. “This senior said, ‘Hey, I need an improv partner, you want to do it?’ It was really by accident that I ended up here. I didn’t know much about it, but once I got here I couldn’t leave, either by choice or by someone else. It kind of got rubbed in, so I stayed.”
As a four-year member of the team, Stammeyer has seen kids from all walks of life take part in speech.
“Acting is one of my favorite things,” Stammeyer said. “I guess I have a little natural talent for it, you could say. It’s great. The best thing about speech is there’s really something for everyone. From whatever background you’re coming from, there is something for you to do. There is stuff you can devote a lot of time to, and if you can’t, you can become an improv actor. You can’t really prepare much, when you get there they tell you what to do and you just go for it.”
Schwarz spoke about one student, Ella Daft, who was kind of shy and nervous when she first started last year. Then, last year, she ended up going to state and, this year, she wrote her own play. She is also doing spontaneous speaking this season.
The speech season is divided into two seasons. The first part of the season is large group, which runs from Janunary through February, while individual speech goes from the end of February until the end of March. They start practice for large group in October and compete in five events, one of which features their top-tier radio broadcast team. Besides Stammeyer’s impeccable script, their broadcast was produced with very high quality, thanks to studio time donated to them by KCOB-FM.
“As big as the program is getting, we are going to need more help,” Schwarz said. “I wanted to grow the program, but if we get more (kids) than we have, it’s too much for two of us to handle. Some of the other coaches in other communities told me they use a lot of community members that are volunteers that come in too help. I’m doing two seasons’ worth of activity and we really need more help.”
Staff Writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641)-792-3121 Ext. 426 or firstname.lastname@example.org