Debate team to compete in national tournament

HARLINGEN — Dr. Ruth Westheimer, always seeking to help others, has even assisted a young girl’s maturity as an actress.

Dr. Ruth, a popular therapist and media personality, has never met Sawyer Warrenburg, 17. However, Sawyer seems to know Dr. Ruth very well, having studied her in depth to improve her performance in dramatic interpretation.

Sawyer’s performance as Dr. Ruth has evolved so much she will travel with three other members of the Harlingen High School South Speech, Drama and Debate Team in May to compete in the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions.

The students — James Gracia, 15, Enrique Cantu, 17, and Matthew Canon, 17 — are pretty jazzed about the trip to Denver for the competition. The students had to earn two bids at nationally recognized tournaments to qualify for this competition.

“I’m very excited, very happy that we got to earn this, that we got to work for this opportunity,” said James, a sophomore.

Their coach and sponsor, Lee Ann Ince, said she was also very excited about taking her four students to the competition.

“I am extremely proud of these students,” Ince said. “This accomplishment is a testament to their dedication and commitment to our program.”

He and Enrique, a senior, will compete in the duo interpretation event. They’re performing an adaptation from “50/50” a movie released in 2011 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen.

“It’s about this man named Adam, he’s 27 years old,” James said. “He’s diagnosed with cancer, and he really gets to see who actually stays, who are his true friends and true family. It’s really a relationship tester.”

Adam’s friend Kyle turns out to be his stand up guy, sticking by him to the very last, and helping him deal with his illness through humor.

James and Enrique both believe they have a good chance at the tournament.

“I know it’s going to be very competitive,” James said. “But we’ve been practicing all year to come all this way, and hopefully we can come and then do good.”

Enrique said they did very well at the tournament of champions.

“Hopefully this year we can bring back some bigger medals,” he said.

Meanwhile, as James and Enrique work to portray the intense emotions of two fictitious characters, Sawyer continues to spend extended amounts of time with Dr. Ruth, reading, researching, and making note of her every move during recorded interviews.

Sawyer, a senior, believes her performance stands out because she’s portraying a real person. The portrayal of fictitious characters is sometimes overdone, she said.

“The fact this is about a real person, it’s just a nice heartwarming story and it’s not so overdramatic,” she said.

Dr. Ruth is popularly known as a sex therapist. Sawyer laughed and said, “I don’t get into all of that. It’s more about her as a person and where she came from. She was a survivor of the Nazis and she came to America totally alone.”

She’s come to admire Dr. Ruth’s sense of humor and her optimism about life, telling people not to take things so seriously and realize how great life is. Live every day like it’s your last.

“That’s just a really great thing about her,” she said enthusiastically.

Dramatic interpretation gives her the chance to tell the stories that are important to her.

“I really enjoy just being able to share my story with an audience,” she said.

Matthew Canon, 17, also likes telling a person’s story through dramatic interpretation.

“I personally am a huge fan of dramatic interpretation because you get to tell a person’s story,” he said. “And sometimes it’s a story that someone out there in the audience needs to listen to.”

The students will all return with stories to tell after the competition, and they’ll take those stories with them. They all conveyed the belief that the program had benefitted them all.

“This program and activity helps you in becoming more social and more outgoing as a person as well as a performer,” James said.