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West High senior Alex Bush estimates he and his speech partner Lexi Eagle have performed their 10-minute piece 176 times since their season began last fall.

So when he says the line, “she breathes, I swoon,” Bush’s challenge is to say it like it’s the first time. And if he doesn’t, Eagle will let him know.

“Since we know each other so well, we’re not afraid to hurt each other’s feelings,” said Eagle, a junior. “We struggled more over what to wear than the script.”

Bush and Eagle will join junior Michael Hill and senior Megan Fisk from West and three Senior High forensics competitors — seniors Erica Burdick, Spencer Sheehan and Hannah Swanson — at the National Forensic League competition June 13-19 in Dallas, Texas. As some of the top speech and debate competitors from Montana, the seven students will test their skills on a national level. They earned spots at a qualifying NFL meet in February.

Bush first heard the piece “Jerry Finnegan’s Sister” at a speech meet his freshman year and decided that one day he’d compete with it. The task involved cutting a two-hour play into a 10-minute script that he and Eagle could perform without making eye contact or touching one another, a tricky job since the play is about falling for the girl next door.

“The main thing that helps is being able to get up there and make a fool of yourself,” Bush said.

In Sheehan’s event, original oratory, it’s the opposite. He has 10 minutes to recite a speech he has written that will connect with the judges. Sheehan must be persuasive, not foolish. His speech “Entertainment Overdose” is well, an entertaining look at how we Americans pay more attention to pop culture, stories about “Jersey Shore” and Justin Bieber’s hair, than we do real news.

“It’s very Twain,” said the Senior High coach Jenny Fleeck Airne. “It lets the people laugh and then a light bulb goes off and they think of themselves.”

Sheehan pushes the boundaries of what he can do with a speech, he sings, he hollers, he slaps an imaginary sticky note on his forehead to remind himself to pay attention to current events, not just entertainment.

“Less focus on Lady Gaga videos, more on our community,” he encourages.

And just when you think the speech may get pompous, he sings a new version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.”

“He’s been working on it all year,” Airne said. “He’s keeping it current, but the meat of the piece is there and it’s solid.”

Hannah Swanson knows every line to her serious oral interpretation because she has also performed it many weekends since October. She’s working at cleaning up her accents and keeping the grit in the fictional work “Multiple Personality Murder” where she plays an abused girl with multiple personalities.

To see Swanson’s unblinking eyes and to feel her anger as she becomes her bully self is rather frightening. Just as creepy is the sexy character coming out.

“We had her add the wink, I think it really adds to it,” Airne said. “It’s those subtle little choices you make that changes it.”

Frisk and Hill will compete in public forum debate in Dallas and Erica Burdick will compete in student congress.

“We’ve worked hard all season, giving up all the weekends traveling to meets. Now it almost makes me cry because it’s getting so close to the end,” Burdick said.

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Contact Jaci Webb at 657-1359 or jwebb@billingsgazette.com

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