For 30 years, the Nashville Catholic Middle School Forensics League has been helping young students build a self-confidence that can carry them throughout their life.
The league’s success in that mission is on display with the selection of the first 12 inductees of the new Forensics Hall of Fame, including six alumni of the program, three coaches and three Friends of Forensics.
“This program is important because at the middle school level you can teach a child courage and confidence that there is nothing that child can’t accomplish,” said Joe Zanger, league president and the coach at St. Joseph School. “That’s been shown over and over and over again.
“The biggest fear in the world is (public) speaking. Once a child gets over that they become a better student, they become a better friend,” Zanger said.
“They didn’t have to be stars” to benefit from the program, he added. “Just getting up there and performing and being part of that process makes them confident and courageous people. That’s why I think every Catholic school should have a forensics program.
“It’s hard to get that courage in high school, it’s hard to get that in college, it’s hard to get that when they’re out in the world,” Zanger said. “But once you get there, it stays part of you for the rest of your life.”
The idea of a Forensics Hall of Fame grew out of comments Zanger and league founder Carolyn Baker heard from former students about how forensics benefitted them.
Rob Hancock is one of the alumni being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He participated in forensics as a student at Overbrook School when Baker was the coach there and is now a professional actor.
“While there were trophies and accolades involved, just as there are financial rewards in my career as an actor today, those were never really the ultimate prize,” Hancock said of his experience with forensics. “The prize was finding that amazing feeling of artistic inspiration and using it to spread joy, laughter, beauty, and truth to others. What a gift to discover that at a young age and to have an avenue to pursue it! Forensics helped me start my wonderful journey as an artist and I will always cherish it.”
“Those are the types of things that mean a lot to me and Joe as coaches,” said Baker, another member of the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame.
“I’m really proud of our league,” she said. “Every coach can tell you stories of the impact it’s had.”
In establishing the Hall of Fame, organizers settled on the three categories. “We wanted to consider everybody, not just the students or the coaches,” Zanger said. “Friends of Forensics popped up.”
“We reached out to people involved in the league” to form a selection committee for each category, he said, and then put out a request for nominations, he said. “We had a lot of nominations.”
The inaugural class of inductees includes:
- Alumni Hancock, Abbie Loftus DeBlasis and Heather Yopp Honeycut, all of Overbrook school; Angelenna Berberic-Erebout of St. Joseph School; Nina Marie Fredericks of Christ the King School; and Liz Haynes of Holy Rosary Academy.
- Friends of Forensics Pam Beaver, Father Joseph Breen and Angela Siefker.
- Coaches Baker of Overbrook; Larry Langley of Christ the King; and Rita LaRue of St. Ann School.
This year’s inductees and future inductees will be honored in a display that will be erected at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville.
“It’s going to be a nice wall that every year we hope to add to,” Baker said.
An induction ceremony and reception at the Catholic Pastoral Center will be scheduled for a date this fall, Baker said.
“We’re hoping all our inductees will come back,” Zanger said. “They’ll be coming from all over the map, and I hope they will be able to make it back.”
League officials have raised funds to pay for the Hall of Fame display and will continue to raise money to pay for future additions and induction ceremonies, Zanger said.
The display will include a plaque that honors donors, Baker said.
Those interested in supporting the Hall of Fame can turn in their donation to their parish or school, Zanger said.
Forensics Hall of Fame 2021 inductees
- Angelenna Berberic-Erebout, St. Joseph School, 2004-08. A 2007 Diocesan Spirit of Forensics winner, Berberic-Erebout excelled in forensics at St. Cecilia Academy. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and will graduate from the University of Washington School of Law in June.
- Abbie Loftus DeBlasis, Overbrook School. She participated in forensics from fifth grade through eighth grade. As a Wake Forest University law student, DeBlasis participated in trial competitions and was editor-in-chief of the law review. After a career as an attorney and law professor, she now is a teacher and the forensics coach at Holy Trinity Montessori School in Nashville.
- Nina Marie Fredericks, Christ the King School, 2004-06. After graduating from Father Ryan High School, Fredericks earned an undergraduate degree in studio art with a double minor in art history and biology from Creighton University. She went on to Creighton’s medical school and is in her final year of residency.
- Rob Hancock, Overbrook School, 1986-92. Hancock is a professional actor with credits on the stage and television, including a starring role in the world premiere of the hit musical “Daddy Long Legs.” He performed in that play at London’s St. James Theater and has the lead role in the television series “Greenport.”
- Elizabeth “Liz” Haynes, Holy Rosary Academy, for four years. Haynes earned bachelor of arts degrees in Production Studies in Performing Arts and in Modern Languages from Clemson University and a master of fine arts degree in Theater Technical Direction from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She has won several theater awards and was named Outstanding Graduate for the UNLV MFA program.
- Heather Yopp Honeycut, Overbrook School, 1994-98. Honeycut continued participating in forensics at St. Cecilia Academy, where she received the school’s top honor of “St. Cecilia Girl.” A parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin, Honeycut served as Director of Student Activities at St. Cecilia and currently works for Ramsey Solutions overseeing the strategic planning process for the Live Events Team.
- Carolyn Baker, Overbrook School, 1990-2011. Baker was the driving force behind the founding of the Nashville Catholic Middle School Forensics League in 1990. The same year she established Overbrook’s program, which grew to more than 100 students. She organized the first National Junior Forensics Tournament in 2000 at Father Ryan, which drew students from 185 schools.
- Larry Langley, Christ the King School, 1990-2007. Langley helped launch the league in 1990 as Christ the King’s coach and led the team to several league championships. He also served as a tournament volunteer and judge and president of the league.
- Rita LaRue, St. Ann School. LaRue also helped launch the league as the first coach for St. Ann School. “Her dedication and humor inspired students,” according to her nomination.
Friends of Forensics
- Pam Beaver. She began working with the Nashville Catholic Middle School Forensic Program when her son was in school at Overbrook School, about 25 years ago and continues to support the program. Beaver has served as a judge for many years and has helped league officials organize tournaments.
- Father Joseph Patrick Breen, retired pastor of St. Edward Church. Father Breen hosted the league’s first mock tournament at St. Edward and has been a consistent supporter and booster of the forensics program ever since.
- Angela Siefker, Overbrook School. She has been involved in the forensics program since the league’s inception, often working behind the scenes to make sure tournaments run smoothly and making the program available to students throughout the diocese. She is a past recipient of the league’s Adult/Volunteer Spirit of Forensics Award.