A family tradition: The Manatee County 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking Competition

PALMETTO -- Participating in the 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking Manatee County has become a Galvano family tradition.

Jacqueline Galvano, 10, daughter of state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and his wife, Julie Anne, became the third person in her family to participate Saturday. Galvano himself won the competition in 1977, and his son, William, won in 2010.

Jacqueline's speech was titled "Let's Talk," focused on the importance of face-to-face communication in an age that increasingly relies on text messages and social media to communicate.

"People just don't talk to each other anymore," Jacqueline told the crowd of about 70 people in one of two auditoriums for the competition. "We're all too busy going on Instagram, texting, tweeting, Facebooking or Snapchatting. A good ol' conversation with two mouths moving is a rarity."

Jacqueline was one of 31 students who spoke at the 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking Manatee County Competition on Saturday. The program took the first-place speech winners from 28 schools in fourth, fifth and sixth grades throughout Manatee County to find the first-place winner overall in a sixth-grade category and a fourth- and fifth-grade division.

All speeches were the original work of the students and were two to three minutes in length, produced from the public-speaking curriculum available to all Manatee County elementary and middle schools. Judges based their decisions on composition and presentation.

Angelina Ortiz, a 4-H program specialist in the county, said since public speaking is one of the most prominent fears, even among adults, it was important to teach the practice at young ages.

"They start young, so they won't be so nervous when they get older," Ortiz said. "This is a skill they'll have throughout their lives, that they can use at home, at work and at school."

Six sixth-graders competed against one another Saturday morning, while 25 fourth- and fifth-graders competed in the afternoon.

Olivia Kerul, of Buffalo Creek Middle School, placed first in the sixth-grade competition for her speech, "The Pressure is On." Laura Schmeichel won first in the fourth- and fifth-grade competition for her speech, "Being the Middle Sister."

Speech topics ranged from the humorous, such as Ethan Mills' on a 13-hour road trip to North Carolina, to the serious, such as Alexia Roberto's speech, "My Double Life," about problems with her relationship with her mother and her new one with her father. Roberto won fourth in the competition for her speech.

The students worked for months on their speeches, practicing for hours for the competition.

Jacqueline Galvano said she thinks she practiced the same speech 30 or 40 times. "I just remember that whatever I place in, I did a good job and I tried my hardest," she said.

This was the competition's 46th year. It was started in 1952 by a Palm View Elementary School teacher, Inez Pettigrew, when she started the public-speaking curriculum with her own students. In 1969, Tropicana and 4-H joined forces to offer the curriculum and competition countywide.

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at kirby@bradenton.com. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.