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Scores and Schedules

Atlantic Speech Team Evacuated From Competition After Bomb Threat

Several performances were postponed due to safety concerns.
Many students waited on buses outside of Ankeny Centennial High School after the threat was made.

A bomb threat forced the evacuation of all performers and spectators present at the IHSSA Southwest State Large Group Contest. Members of the AHS speech team were also present at Ankeny Centennial High School on Saturday, Feb. 3. 

Performances went smoothly throughout the day until 3 p.m. when the intercoms turned on, sending a message for all present in the building to exit immediately. The Atlantic team waited on their bus until further instructions. After cops had arrived and calls were made to several Atlantic school district officials, the team returned to the Atlantic High School safely on the bus. Those with family who came to spectate rode home with them.

Trisha Niceswanger, the co-head coach of the team and middle-school and high-school Spanish teacher, was watching over the speech team with co-head coach Troy Roach. “We were rehearsing in a little alcove area outside of the gym,” Niceswanger said. “Our [second] group was 20 minutes from performing and were about to present their piece when we were evacuated.” Most of the Atlantic team was already near doors that led to the northern parking lot outside. “I was immediately on edge, being that I didn’t know if there was an actual threat at the time… I also knew that I was responsible for these kids.”

Sophomore Margaret McCurdy was separated from the group when the intercom announcement was made. McCurdy was part of the performance group that was scheduled to perform next. “I was in the gym, alone from our team, grabbing my things to go perform,” McCurdy said. “At first, I didn’t realize anything was happening. Because the gym was filled with over 100 people, I didn’t hear the announcement telling us to evacuate. Even outside, I was still joking since I didn’t understand the breadth of the situation.” 

The threat was a photo sent out via the Apple device Airdrop option. It claimed, “I have placed a bomb in the auditorium.” Authorities found the identity of the culprit, who was allegedly a minor attending the event. The official IHSSA website used the site’s news section to send out several announcements that day. “Based on the interviews, it was determined that there was no credible threat to the building,” the website stated.

Based on the interviews, it was determined that there was no credible threat to the building.

— IHSSA website

Proper precautions were taken at the moment, and due to the immediate evacuation, many personal items were left behind. Pick up for these items occurred the next day between 8-11 a.m. Assistant Principal/Activities Director Andrew Mitchell returned to Centennial High School with Niceswanger to retrieve the group’s items. Some people left behind spare clothes and books; others left behind their wallets, ID cards, keys, and even phones or computers.

Junior Jo Handlos was in two performance groups that day, one of which had already performed. She had several important belongings that were not retrieved until the next day. “I left behind my jacket so I was freezing, my blanket, my meds, my salt tablets, my AirPods, and my clothes,” Handlos said. She also did not have her car keys with her and had to use extra car keys instead. “This all happened after my first performance and hopefully won’t negatively affect our performance today.”

Typically, student participants at any IHSSA State contest wait until the following Monday to see if they progress onto the All-State level and can participate in the IHSSA All-State Large Group Festival. However, since the southwest district contest was postponed after 3 p.m. that day, the All-State list will not be posted until later in the week. Another announcement was made on the IHSSA website, stating that “the make-up SW State Large Group Contest is being held today, Monday, Feb. 5 from 3:30-7 p.m. at Ankeny Centennial High School.” Niceswanger said that the make-up performances would be a “first come first serve” and that there was no set schedule for the performances. Three judges would be present for each performance group and write critiques on paper ballots as per usual. 

The Atlantic speech team had brought two performance groups to the high school to perform. One was an Ensemble Acting piece that performed at 12:15 p.m. The second was a Choral Reading piece scheduled to be performed at 3:26 p.m. before it was postponed.

Junior Nissa Molgaard was also meant to perform in the Choral Reading that day. Her nerves were worsened by the situation but she walked away with a new perspective. Molgaard said, “I feel that our piece will have a bigger impact tonight because it’s titled ‘Nobody Is Safe.’ Especially when you’re asked to leave a building because of a bomb threat.” The performance carries a strong theme of resisting complacency and violence held against you. “I’m not gonna let someone silence my voice because of a decision they made.”

I’m not gonna let someone silence my voice because of a decision they made.

— Nissa Molgaard

The bombing threat, though it was non-credible, is part of recent fears that plague the minds of American students. “Truly, what this experience did for me was heighten real fears of every single student and competitor,” McCurdy said. “Almost perfectly a month after the shooting at Perry High School, these threats hold a new weight and connotation for Iowa students. Everybody should be angry that this was even a rationalized decision and everybody should be scared that these kinds of things are continuing to happen.”

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About the Contributor
J. Molina, AHS Needle Editor
If you’re looking for a school staple, look for J. Molina’s bird. They draw the bird as a signature to show who they are in a creative way. Molina is an AHS Needle and Senior Magazine editor who is joining the broadcasting team this year. Molina is involved in many activities, such as marching band as a drum major, concert band as a bass clarinet, speech and debate, AHS theater, international club, QSA, and journalism. They use each activity as a “creative outlet,” and enjoy participating in each. They most enjoy speech and marching band. “I like swinging my arms like a fool,” Molina said. Story by Alix Nath

Comments (2)

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  • L

    LindaFeb 13, 2024 at 10:14 am

    Good reporting, Josie! Excellently written piece.

  • D

    DiannaFeb 6, 2024 at 11:14 pm

    Excellent work on this Molina! Glad all were safe & hope our team does well.