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AMES, Iowa | Siouxland Christian and Spencer High School made history on Saturday with "banner" performances at the Iowa All-State Large Group Speech Festival held at Iowa State University.

East High grabbed headlines, too.

Siouxland Christian capped a breakthrough large-group speech season when the one-act play written, cast and directed by Coach Emily Hageman earned Critic's Choice, as the critic, or judge, deemed it the best one-act performance of the All-State festival. In short, that award labels "Back Cover," the Siouxland Christian one-act play entry, as the best of all 130 one-act entries in Iowa this season.

Earning a banner, after all, amounts to a state championship, regardless of the school's enrollment. Siouxland Christian, you see, with its enrollment of 75 high school students, competes in speech against the largest schools, such as Des Moines East, whose high school enrollment comes to 2,291 students.

The award came with some disbelief for Hageman, who started the speech program last year at Siouxland Christian.

"This was our first All-State festival, so we really had no idea what to do," said Hageman, who disclosed how she sat in the top balcony level at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium as Critic's Choice awards were announced. Coaches and performers, she noted, were supposed to sit in front of the stage so they'd be close at hand if their names were called for the award.

Imagine having an Academy Award winner, for example, coming from the third level in the balcony to accept an Oscar on-stage.

"We won the first award (for one-act play) and I literally screamed and ran down the stairs as fast as I could. I threw everything on the floor and got to the stage as fast as I could," Hageman said, stifling a laugh. "I felt like an idiot!"

Her students and parents of students shared hugs and tears following the event, marking what is most likely the first true state title of any kind for Siouxland Christian, the non-denominational Christian school enjoying its first year on a new campus on Sioux City's east side.

Hageman, a 2012 graduate of Dordt College, wrote "Back Cover" over the summer. The play follows a girl who moves to New York City following her parents' divorce. The girl discovers a box of letters in New York and soon connects with the author of those letters as the characters' lives intersect in this drama.

"It's a story about connecting to other people in our lives and influencing them in ways we might not ever be able to see," she said.

Performers included: Trenton Armstrong, Riley Doemhoefer, Jack Etherington, Sarah Goetsch, Mikellie Grant, Gwenyth Hoogendyk, Rachel Nelson, Rachel Pirrie, Erin Spake and Austin Yanney.

East secures 9th banner

East High School's choral reading entry, "Mind Your Manners," also brought home a banner for being Critic's Choice, marking the ninth time thespians at East have given the state's top performance in a respective category. "Mind Your Manners," interestingly, earned the 2014 Critic's Choice award for East as well.

"All of those kids from 2014 have graduated," said Wendy Bryce, the East High School head coach who wrote, cast and directed this choral reading entry. "We took this script and the kids this year added their own spin to it."

In doing so, East became the best of the best, a field that began the season with some 200 choral reading entries that performed in District competition.

Bryce said she felt earning the banner might be a possibility after viewing a near-flawless show by her students. One highlight included a vignette when Juan Gomez soared in a take on "The Phantom of the Opera." Following his brief singing solo, Gomez stopped and just stared a bit into the audience in a bit of a drop-the-mic moment that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The critic walked to the stage and bowed down before the East High thespians after the show, saying, "You just watched a Broadway production of...whatever this is called!"

Those performing in the skit, which was co-directed by Bryce, her husband, Risty Bryce, and assistant director Hannah Marshall included: Anthony Anderson, Gabe Ruiz, Juan Gomez, Nathan Kitrell, Cameron Jensen, Parker Wolf, Bronwyn Eastlick, Brittany Todd, Denise Camarena, Malea Hanson, Nichole Evans, Liz Senstad, Ariel Kern, Avery Poole and Alley Self.

The 2018 effort marked the 10th straight year East High has been one of 20 high schools to perform in choral reading on the All-State level, a run that began with a skit written and directed by Shelley Molland, whose choral reading expertise showed in a 2004 banner earned by East. Bryce has directed the last nine choral reading entries at East, including this one, the third banner-winning choral reading effort at the school.

Spencer tops 360 musical theater entries

Spencer High School's run of All-State speech performers this year reached 43 straight years, a streak unmatched in Iowa. All 43 have come under the direction of Coach Larry Untiet, who joined his musical theater charges in bringing home a banner on Saturday after their performance of "Bonnie & Clyde." The banner is Spencer's fifth, its first since 1999.

"Our purple All-State t-shirts this year just happened to match the purple color for the musical theater banner," said Untiet, who lauded the work of his assistant coach, Katie Kardell, who directed "Bonnie & Clyde," a 10-minute cutting from the musical by the same name.

"You could tell from the critic's comments that they (the Spencer students) had an excellent chance. She liked how they were the complete package of singing, acting and dancing," Untiet said.

"I was a very surreal moment," said Kardell of the gathering at C.Y. Stephens for the awarding of banners. "It was just silent before the announcement and I could hear my heart beating."

Kardell said she thought Spencer might have a chance as she watched the festival unfold on Saturday. "I've done this enough years and I've seen many past winners and I saw our kids doing everything that other banner winners have done in the past," she said.

According to Craig Ihnen, executive director of the Iowa High School Speech Association, some 360 musical theater entries started the season at the District level.

Six seniors made up the cast for "Bonnie & Clyde," including: Austin Crew, Sam Aalberts, Delaney Weeks, Tim Steele, Molly Schlichtmeier and Will Heaton. Those six held rehearsals with Kardell three times per week from 9 to 10 p.m., to allow time for participation in other extracurricular activities.

"They're a really talented bunch of kids who were always willing to find more in their characters," Kardell said.

Untiet said he'd likely hang the banner, a traveling trophy the school keeps for one year, in the concourse outside the spectacular new auditorium serving Spencer High School. The banner will find a home next to a display that shows each of the 42 years -- now, 43 -- that a Spencer has earned a berth in the prestigious all-state speech festival.



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