HARLINGEN — Lauren Cavada seemed to bounce from one part of the country to another, using her face as a sort of portal.

She was at once an angry Hispanic mother with a thick accent and then an annoyed Midwestern housewife, then a scared little girl looking for her toy.

She moved through different levels of society, stretching her Rs into nonexistence, drawing out her speech, then speeding it up again.

Oh, my gosh, this child has serious multiple personality disorder, you might say…..

Not even. She’s a talented 12-year-old actress from Tuloso-Midway Middle School who was showing her stuff yesterday at the Harlingen High School South Texas Forensic Association competition.

“It’s going really smoothly so far,” said Savanna Smith, secretary for the Harlingen South Speech Drama and Debate Team, which organized the event.

The competition attracted almost 500 middle and high schoolers from 32 schools to participate in a variety of competitions including Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Duo Interpretation and Student Congress.

“It teaches them to listen more, to think more, and to speak more,” said Lee Ann Ince, HCISD Speech Drama Debate instructional coach.

Students had the opportunity to qualify for the state competition later this year in several events.

Participating schools came from throughout the Harlingen school district and the rest of the Valley. They also came from as far away as San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

Preparing for their various events indeed gave them the opportunity to practice their acting chops or their research and presentation skills. Just ask Victoria Chaparo, 16, of Los Fresnos.

“How best can NASA put their funds to use because they’re running out?” stated Victoria, a junior at Los Fresnos United High School.

She sat now before her laptop in the cafeteria at Harlingen South. The large cafeteria/gathering station was filled with students who’d either finished their events or were making final preparations. Victoria’s teammates filled one long table. She smiled and gestured briefly in their direction.

“My teammates are big destressors because they are hilarious,” she said with a slight laugh.

She felt pretty good about her performance.

“It was a good speech,” she said. “I think I did very well.”

When John Cooper, 12, was first invited to participate in speech, drama and debate, he was by his own admission more fired up about a possible field trip to Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. Although he still wants the field trip, that’s no longer his strongest motivation.

“I like to argue,” said the Tuloso-Midway middle schooler.

He “argued” very well yesterday about mandatory military or national service in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate event.

“In the first round I felt I did good,” he said. “My opponent didn’t seem to know what he was doing. He couldn’t defend it.”

The argument, he explained, was actually military service, but he could make a distinction between the military or simply a national service in which young citizens clean up national parks or engage in other projects. The difference is a tool he uses sparingly.

“I don’t use it all the time,” he said. “Sometimes I need it and I pull it out. When I use it, it catches them by surprise and they don’t have an answer.”

Just The Facts

Events that may qualify students for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions in Denver next year

– Dramatic Interpretation

– Duo Interpretation

– Duet Acting

– Original Oratory

– Humorous Interpretation