Werth turns fear into feeling

As a young student asked to speak in front of her classmates, Jenny Werth exhibited all the classic symptoms: sweaty palms, shaky voice, queasy stomach.

In a word, she was PETRIFIED.

Now, as a senior at Centre High School, she and her forensics teammates wear those very words on the front of their team T-shirt in recognition of what they’ve learned to overcome by participating in a program based on speaking and performing in front of others.

“I believe that, overall, forensics has helped me with my speaking skills, it’s helped me with self-confidence and self-esteem, it’s taught me numerous leadership skills and definitely helped me with my communication skills,” said the Cougar senior.

Not bad for someone who used to dread speaking to a group.

“It scared me to death,” she said. “I hated getting up in front of my classmates. But then I started channeling all of that adrenaline, all that nervous anxiety into putting emotion into how I spoke.”

That, in a nutshell, is what her experience in forensics for three years at Centre has taught her.

“I still sometimes get nervous in front of certain people when I perform, but it’s a rush. I like the rush. It’s fun. I really enjoy it.

“Forensics has made it so much easier to speak to strangers-about anything.”

Believe it or not, it was her dislike of public speaking that drew her to forensics in the first place. The seed was planted during her freshman year at Salina South High School, when she took an oral communications class.

“The teacher told me I had a knack for prose and poetry and for performing in front of class,” she said. “She wanted me to go on and be in her forensics class the next year.”

But a year or so earlier, her mother, Kathy, had been appointed postmaster at Ramona. The two of them decided to move to the Marion County small town after the fall semester of Jenny’s sophomore year.

It was a move Jenny said she made reluctantly at the time-but has never regretted.

“She wasn’t going to move until I had finished high school,” Jenny said about her mother. “But I told her once I’m 16 and have a license, I could always drive back to see my friends. Now I kick myself, wishing I had moved up here sooner because I just love it.”

One of the things she has come to love is the forensics program led by adviser Jennifer Montgomery-even though Centre’s program is run quite differently than it would have been in Salina.

“As soon as I got up here, Miss Montgomery said, ‘We don’t have enough students to have a class for it. Our team just kind of gets in there, we pick our pieces and work outside of school-or you can come in during (study hall) and I’ll help you out whenever you have a free minute.'”

It’s worked out pretty well for Werth. She started as a sophomore in the prose category, where a student picks a passage from a book and is judged by her ability to bring it to life as she reads it.

“The fun thing with prose that I really enjoy is that you have different characters and you have dialogue-you’re supposed to get into character with each one. Prose is really fun for me.”

Even so, she found her niche during her junior year when she tried one of the more difficult events in forensics, extemporaneous speaking.

In that discipline, a student develops a box of printed resources-mostly news magazines-covering events of the year. Judges then give the contestant a choice of topics-usually three. The student then has 30 minutes to prepare a five-minute speech about one of the topics.

“A lot of times I’ll get subjects that I’ve never heard of,” Werth said. “First, you start looking as fast as you can (in the resource box) to find out anything you can so you can get in there with one notecard.

“It’s stressful, but it gets your adrenaline going,” she said. “I enjoy it, I really do.”

She’s also been pretty successful at it, almost always making it to the finals of the various meets.

Werth has been competing in extemporaneous speaking again this year, but has found additional success in an unexpected event: poetry.

“At the beginning of the year, we read Shakespeare’s ‘A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream,’ and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I guess I’m a little bit of a softie for those kinds of stories.”

Werth went ahead and prepared what she thought would be a prose presentation from a section of the Shakespeare classic.

“When I asked Miss Montgomery and gave her my piece, she said, ‘Oh, this will make a great poetry piece,'” Werth said. “She said everything by Shakespeare is automatically poetry, even if it’s not poetic in its nature.”

Recently, Werth placed fourth at the Eisenhower League meet, which qualified her for state competition May 7.

Werth said she qualified for state last year in improvisational duet acting, but opted out of the competition because it fell on the same day as Centre’s prom. This year the dates don’t conflict.

“It was a big deal for me (to qualify in poetry), I was excited,” she said. “I’m definitely going to state this year.”

Centre will have three other entries at state from its nine-member team. Werth and Jill Fenske serve as co-captains.

“She’s a good leader,” Montgomery said about Werth. “For example, this year we hosted our league meet. I kind of put the ball in her hands to take care of the younger ones and get them all set up. She’s really willing to help the new ones know what to do and where to go and seems pretty conscientious about that.”

Montgomery added that Werth has a natural talent for forensics.

“She ‘gets it’ when she reads literature-she gets what’s important and how to emphasize it,” Montgomery said. “So that’s another strength of hers.”

Werth said she plans to move back to Salina after graduation and attend Kansas Wesleyan University, where she plans to enroll in the nursing program. After earning her bachelor of science degree, she plans to enter the physicians-assistant program at Wichita State University.

While at KWU, Werth plans to continue her involvement in forensics and further develop the public-speaking skills and personal growth she has already experienced.

“I will never say that a prepared speaker is not a nervous speaker,” she said. “I think you’re going to be nervous every time, no matter what.

“A prepared speaker is one who gets nervous, but turns that nervous energy into emotional feeling and performs their piece with it.”

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