LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Speech-giving is a hobby for Gullett Elementary fifth-grader Hailey Wahlers.
Several hours practicing with her friends and in front of the mirror led to Wahlers' first-place medal Monday at the Gullett Elementary 4-H Tropicana speech contest.
Wahlers, who displayed her passion for public speaking with a presentation titled "How to Give a Good Speech," will now represent her school May 11 at the countywide contest at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.
While her topic was simple, Wahlers skillfully combined humor and informative material into her speech.
"What judges at the district level will not know about her is that public speaking is one of her favorite things," said Tia Henderson, assistant principal at Gullett Elementary.
Wahlers was one of 20 fourth- and fifth-graders competing for a spot in the district competition. Each teacher chose two students to speak in the school wide contest based on classroom performance and delivery. Teachers worked with students for several weeks on how to effectively write and deliver a speech.
(The panel of judges included Kim Taylor, store manager from Publix; Mary Tischbein, a school district accountant who performs comedy in her spare time; and Erica Earl, the Herald's education reporter.)
Emilo Vega and Robby Goecker, selected to visit first lady Michelle Obama to help plant the White House kitchen garden earlier this month, secured runners-up positions for their speeches.
Vega, originally from Columbia, spoke about his vacation to Hawaii with great ease and command of vocabulary for a young student who learned English as a second language.
Goecker's speech, "Improper Income," intelligently compared an athlete's outrageous salary to that of a teacher or a doctor.
Speeches varied from informative, persuasive and autobiographical to comical monologues.
The audience in the cafeteria at Gullett Elementary school could not hold back laughter as student Austin Gobcynski presented his speech about peering into other people's car windows while on the road with his family.
Gobcynski wasn't the only student to win classmates over with humor. Shea Murphy gave an energetic speech on life before modern-day conveniences.
Wahlers found out she won during announcements at the end of the school day. She said you must be relaxed when preparing for a speech and she uses the calming tactic of imagining the audience in its underwear.
Wahlers will compete in May against other elementary school speakers from public and charter schools in Manatee County participating in Tropicana's public-speaking program.
The winner of the county-level speech contest will receive a trophy for their school. Tropicana also provides classroom materials for participating teachers.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081