Northampton’s Conner Handwerk won the State Championship in Impromptu speaking at the State Forensics Championships which were held at Clover Hill High School, Midlothian, VA (Richmond) on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Other members of the team, Ann Espriella and Dante Wilson made the Final Three by placing third in Serious Duo. The Northampton High School squad was coached by Cheryl Fenderson.
The Mirror caught up with Conner about his big win at states.
How did you become interested in forensics? I became interested in forensics because of my coach’s effort to reach out to new players. She contacted both me and my mom while I was in the seventh grade and I began practicing last year, with this year being my first with VHSL competitions (Regionals, States, etc.)
How did you prepare? I prepared by practicing topics generally similar to those I might have gotten at the competition itself, mostly just about relevant subjects and people. However, that isn’t to say I had any idea what I would get while in the room. Topics vary greatly, and the spontaneity of it is what makes it fun.
Who is your coach and how did they help you? My coach is the absolutely wonderful Cheryl Fenderson, and she did everything she possibly could to help me prepare. She gave me all the details of what these events are like, ran through as many topics as I wanted (probably over a hundred at this point), and was generally a supportive person towards it all. She always tried to find a way to make it happen and I appreciate that a lot. Without her, I never would have been able to get this far.
What were the scenarios? The three topics I chose (each round has a choice of three topics, these are just the ones I spoke on) were Danica Roem (one of the first openly transgender person to hold office,) The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and the quote “Intelligence is the ability to adapt and change.” by Stephen Hawking.
What category did you perform in? My category was Impromptu Speaking, which essentially means I have to plan and present a speech on the spot with 7 minutes to spare. There are also a variety of other categories, such as Poetry Interpretation or Serious Dramatic Duo, which both involve a physical script.
What is the hardest part? The hardest part is probably practicing. It might sound strange, but most of my practice topics turn out to not sound the best, which makes me feel less confident in my actual competitive speaking. However, usually under the pressure of the competition itself, I whip into shape and do much better. Practicing really shows me what not to do as I can do it wrong in an environment where it won’t count against me and learn how to fix those mistakes.
What is the most fun part? The most fun part is meeting all the people, and competing itself. You get to meet people at competitions from all around the state, and I have made numerous friends from Forensics, but competing is also very fun. They probably both tie.
Conner is also an accomplished actor and singer. He will be performing one of the lead roles in Arts Enter’s Spring Musical, Don’t Stop Believin on May 11-13.