Speech Contests: Different Types

Depending on what part of the state a high school is in, it may have a number of types of Speech (forensics) contests for students to participate in.


High School Subdistrict, District, State #

This is the official qualification series for Wisconsin’s oldest and largest — by far — contest. Each year, 5,000+ students (grades 9-12) perform in three rounds at one of 55 subdistrict contests around the state (each subdistrict has about 5-12 schools). Students need at least two scores of 16 or better to qualify from subdistrict to district. At district, students perform in three rounds at one of 12 district contests (some of the twelve are split into two contests for the sake of logistics and geographic accessibility), where they must earn at least two scores of 21 or better to qualify from district to State. At State, students perform in one around at UW-Madison, and the score they earn determines the medal they are awarded. The vast majority of Wisconsin schools who participate in forensic Speech activities participate in just these three contests.

Middle: Level 1, Level 2 #

This is a two-part series of open or invitational festivals where students in grades 6-8 (+9 at junior high schools) can earn official WISDAA ribbons. Every student who participates in a Level 1 festival may then participate in a Level 2 festival in the same contest category. Each festival is three rounds, and students who earn an overall “Excellent” rating from at least two adjudicators receive an Excellence ribbon; other participants earn a “Merit” ribbon.

Conference #

Some (not all) of the athletic conferences around the state run their own conference meet, where the same high schools who compete with one another in athletic sports also compete in Speech. Many of these use accumulated points by students to determine a school’s overall standing amongst its peers, while others run a full competitive tournament, where students are comparatively ranked against one another, rather than assessed on their own merits.

Invitationals #

High School #

This is an independent contest put on by the school hosting it, or in partnership with a school administering the contest at a nearby school. While the name implies it is by “invitation only,” in most cases, any school who wishes to participate is invited to bring students. When a coach notifies the WISDAA State Office, we are happy to post the contest on our calendar, provided it uses WISDAA rules (limited deviations are allowed). The Wisconsin Forensic Coaches’ Association (WFCA) is a volunteer-run league with separate dues, which offers an organized circuit of weekly invitational Speech tournaments that follow a set of rules originally adopted from WISDAA (which, over the years, has evolved independently); these tournaments have no bearing on qualification to the WFCA’s open-invitational state tournament.

Middle Level #

Similar to the high school level, the Middle Level Forensics Association of Wisconsin (MLFA) is a volunteer-run league with separate dues, organizing a circuit of weekly invitational Speech tournaments that follow a set of rules originally adopted from WISDAA, but which have evolved into an entirely different framework; these tournaments have no bearing on qualification to the MLFA’s open-invitational state tournament.

NSDA District Qualifier #

The National Speech & Debate Association (previously, National Forensic League) was founded in Wisconsin as an honorary society, later adding a national tournament. Top-placing students from 100+ geographic districts across the United States as well as internationally qualify to participate in the world’s largest academic competition, held over the course of a week in mid-June. The tournament is considered the Olympics of speech and debate, and its gala awards ceremony is considered the Oscars of our activity.

NCFL Diocesan Qualifier #

The National Catholic Forensic League offers an additional competition experience of national caliber — held over a condensed but grueling schedule during the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Local leagues and their qualifying tournaments are loosely arranged by Catholic diocesan boundaries, though the vast majority of membership is comprised of public schools (non-Catholic/other private schools may belong, as well). Each diocesan league sets its own qualification requirements.

As stated above, while there may be various opportunities in a particular area, a school may just participate in subdistrict, district, and State, and still offer students a robust experience. Confused as to how to get started in any of these, or who to contact? Contact the WISDAA State Office, and we’ll help you get connected!

Updated on 03/13/2024
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