Confidence a key reward for competitive senior

Don’t enter a conversation with Adrien Bebermeyer expecting those quiet, single-syllable responses typical of many high-school students when forced to talk to an adult they don’t know well.

Confident and articulate, this Hillsboro High School senior seems more than capable of holding her own in almost any conversational setting, whether it’s one-on-one or even a large group.

A natural gift? Maybe.

But she’s likely to credit four years’ experience in high school debate and forensics for a good part of that confidence.

“It really does help with your performance skills and being comfortable performing in front of people,” Bebermeyer said.

Participating in debate, which is a fall activity in Kansas high schools, is particularly helpful in giving a person the tools to speak persuasively, she said.

“The thing I enjoyed (about debate) was not so much the competitions, but what came from it-which was feeling so much more confident in speaking,” Bebermeyer said. “And it also has allowed me and other participants to sound so much more intelligent when we’re arguing against things because you figure out how to make a case.

“I think that’s a very strong point in arguing-you aren’t just rambling on. You have opinions, and you have points to back them up.”

Bebermeyer’s interest in the oral and dramatic arts began as a young child. She fondly remembers performing in elementary-school plays. She secured her first big role as Becky Thatcher in a fifth-grade production of “Tom & Huck.”

“That was really fun,” she said.

Her staunchest supporters have always been her parents, Terry and Lori Bebermeyer. In addition to being her father, Terry happens to be the debate and forensics coach at Hillsboro High School.

And yes, it’s made a difference.

“Through my dad, I’ve always taken a real interest in acting and drama,” Adrien said. “He’s always taught us to be real confident in our speaking skills. So it just came naturally to be in debate and forensics.”

Of the two, debate has been the most challenging in the sense of getting enough opportunities to compete.

“My freshman year, I participated in pretty much every meet,” she said. “It was nice because everybody was a novice that year, so everybody else was right there with you.”

But when the number of her debate-mates dwindled over the next two years, so did her options for debate partners.

“You can’t go back and debate as a novice, so you have to pull (a novice) up with you,” she said. “It takes a pretty strong speaker to feel comfortable moving up.”

Because of the shortage of partners, Bebermeyer shifted her involvement this past fall from a being debater to being a judge.

“I really enjoyed that much more than I enjoyed debating,” she said.

If nothing else, it helped her understand what sometimes seemed to be irrelevant critiques from judges in previous years.

“Sometimes as a debater you read the ballots the judges write and you think how ridiculous they are, or how their comments just don’t make sense,” she said.

“Then, when you’re a judge and you watch debaters, those things really do come into play. You start noticing the way they dress and how they act. It’s really the whole experience while you’re in the room with them.”

Being a judge also gave Bebermeyer the chance to offer the kind of feedback she wished she would have received.

“Constructive criticism is always good,” Bebermeyer said. “It’s really frustrating to have (judges) just put you down the whole time. It’s important to build (debaters) up and encourage them.”

As much as she enjoys debate, Bebermeyer enjoys forensics even more.

“I enjoy having the opportunity to act individually,” she said. “Sometimes it’s nice to be able to do things as a one-man team, and know you’re going to be the one to mess it up or make it go well.”

Her specialities among the nine forensic options are persuasive speeches and and interpretative speaking.

With persuasive speeches, she chooses a topic, researches her position, and then, with the help of the coach, hones the material into a speech of no more than 10 minutes-and memorizes it.

For interpretive speaking, she selects a “cutting” from literature or other published materials.

“I do the acting part of it, but I still am allowed to read it rather than memorize it,” she said.

As a freshman, Bebermeyer placed sixth in oration in state competition. The following two years, she placed second in prose and poetry.

This year, she’s set her sights on winning the top prize in either prose or oration.

“It’s one of those things where I kind of set the bar pretty high for my senior year, so hopefully I’ll do well,” she said. “But I won’t be disappointed either way. I feel I’ve done well during my four years.”

A secondary goal is to qualify for state champs in all nine events. That means she has to place first or second in each of those event at a forensics meet this spring.

“Right now, I’ve only done oration and prose to make sure I got qualified, because those are the events I probably will do at state,” she said. “At our next meet, I’ll do poetry, and then we’ll move on from there.”

Bebermeyer said having your father also be your coach has advantages and disadvantages.

“It is nice that we have the opportunity to get help whenever we want to,” said Bebermyer, whose younger sister, Emily, also participates in drama.

“There’s also a little pressure,” she added. “I don’t think it’s intentional from him. I also think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves just as the result of him being the coach.

“But I think it has made us better. Just like the basketball coach’s son is real good at basketball, this goes the same way.”

Bebermeyer said one of her biggest frustrations with the local forensics program is that she sees so many fellow students who could excel at it and benefit from it, but chose not to come out.

“We just encourage them to come out and leave the decision up to them,” she said.

There’s something she’d like the world to know about forensics: it’s a great spectator event.

“It just depends on what you’re interested in,” she said. “If you like speeches and you like listening to speaking events, then definitely come watch. It’s always enjoyable and you can go through a whole round and not hear the same thing twice.”

She said the improvisational events are particularly interesting for teens and younger children.

“It’s all silly and made up,” she said. “It’s just a lot of fun to watch.”

Bebermeyer plans to continue her education at Mid-America Nazarene University this fall. Ironically, the Olathe college is just starting a drama program. But that doesn’t mean Bebermeyer won’t find ways to pursue her interest in debate and forensics.

“The coach has suggested that I get involved with some of the high schools in Olathe (as a judge or coach),” she said. “Forensics is very big there, and that would give me an opportunity to become involved.”

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