Special to The Sun
As a sixth grader two years ago, Ally Woodard participated in the speech competition at Florida’s National Junior BETA Club convention in Orlando. Although she had done well locally in the Tropicana speech events, she realized quickly she was in another league among the honor student competitors at the BETA Club level.
“I did my best in 2011, but I was in over my head,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I didn’t even place.” In December Ally went back to Orlando with 40 other students from Emerald Coast Middle School, all of whom were there to compete in categories such as talent, art, academics and public speaking against more than 1,000 honor students from around the state, in what has become the largest statewide middle school honors convention of its type.
Now an eighth grader, Ally has gained experience as a TEDx speaker in California and Ambassador for The Art Miles Mural Project in New York City
“I was the youth representative on a panel of amazing people, including UN Ambassadors and top level government and business leaders,” Ally said. “I was in over my head again, but at least I was able to speak from a young person’s view of how important peace is to all of us.”
With experience in hand, and with the guidance of ECMS BETA sponsor Rose Wilkerson and language arts teacher Margaret Walton, Ally composed and tirelessly rehearsed her speech. She was ready, but to win she had to beat the best of the best; 18 talented speakers including the defending champion of Florida and third nationally, Emily Leto.
Ally dethroned the defending champion and led ECMS to its best showing ever, with a grand total of 18 winners in 8 categories.
“We just took it to a whole new level,” she said.
As a result, ECMS qualified 13 students for the National Junior BETA convention to be held this summer in Richmond, Va. As the winner of the public speaking competition during the first day of the convention, Ally was given the traditional honor of delivering her winning speech to the 1,000 participants as part of the program’s second day general session.
When Ally was asked how she and her fellow ECMS classmates celebrated, she had the familiar reply of champions.
“We were in Orlando. We all went to Disney World.”