Winning Speech

Marc Etchepare was quoting a colonial document in front of 60 people Sunday and realized he couldn't remember the whole quote. No problem.

Rule No. 1: Don't let anybody know when you forget your speech. He found a stopping point, made a dramatic pause and continued.

The Central Catholic High School senior and three other high school students pitched memorized speeches about the U.S. Constitution to a crowd at the American Legion Hall in Modesto on Sunday afternoon to five judges. The contest for high school students in Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne counties was a qualifying round in the American Legion's national oratorical contest, where the top prize is an $18,000 scholarship.

"If I really make a big flub, I just try to keep going without them knowing," said Marc, 17, captain of the Central Catholic speech team. "Nobody knows your speech except you."

It turned out to be a good strategy. Marc won the competition and advances to the next round at Tenth Street Place on Feb. 10. There, he will compete with high schoolers from Lodi to Bakersfield for a chance to go to the statewide competition Feb. 24 in Pacific Palisades.

On Sunday, contestants were required to deliver an eight- to 10-minute memorized speech, and then were given five minutes to prepare an impromptu speech on one of four topics.

Mouths moved in silence minutes before the memorized speeches started as the teens tested their memories. Shoes tapped the floor.

Alex Gross, a junior at Turlock High School, was relatively sure she had memorized her speech during the past month but had a safeguard: She had the last sentence of every paragraph down cold.

"I always have a safety sentence," Alex, 16, said. "The last sentence of my paragraph. And if I forget what comes next, I use my safety sentence."

And she improvises. She's learned to do that from watching her teachers, who are sometimes forced to change gears in front of a class.

"A lot of kids are taught to be controlled and to be robotic and memorize their speeches; and I've learned from my teachers at school who are lecturing that they have to have a backup," she said.

It turned out she didn't need one. The speech went off without a hitch.

But Spencer Amaral, 17, a senior who is home-schooled, was disappointed by his. He paused for a moment once or twice to remember what came next, which he attributed to not having memorized the speech.

"It was still fun," he said. "I hoped I could have done better, I enjoy public speaking."

He took third and won $50. Eric Kenoyer, 18, a senior at Livingston High, came in fourth, also earning $50.

Alex won $100 for second place, and Marc earned $150 for first place and a spot in the next round.

"I've made it to state twice, so I'm looking to win to go to nationals this year," Marc said.

That contest is April 4-6 in Indianapolis.

"My goal is to go to nationals and win."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 578-2324.