Island youth excel at speaking competitions

Two of the three students from Manitoulin Island who took part in public speaking competitions this past Sunday are, front row, third from right, Amber Brizuela, representing Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177 Little Current, and second from right Amara Wilson-Zegil, representing Branch 514 Gore Bay. MSS student April Torkopoulos participated in a French speaking competition. photo by Sofia Brizuela

ONTARIO – Three young Island speakers attended public speaking competitions in southern Ontario this past Sunday, resulting in an honourable mention and two runners-up.

“I felt really good because I made it all the way to finals,” said Amber Brizuela, a Grade 3 student at Central Manitoulin Public School who represented Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177 Little Current at the Legion’s provincial public speaking competition in Niagara Falls. She finished as a runner-up in the primary division. 

Amber sailed through the branch, zone, district and area rounds of competition to be among the 16 people selected to attend the provincial competition across the four age divisions. Her speech on her stepfather Perry’s humorous cooking mishaps proved to be a hit with the judges once again.

The competitors delivered good speeches in their own right and Amber said she enjoyed listening to them.

“I love doing speeches, and I’m going to look forward to it next year,” she said. Her family had travelled down together, including Perry’s parents, and got the chance to spend some time around Niagara Falls. It was Amber’s first time seeing the famous landmark.

Also taking part in the Legion competition was Amara Wilson-Zegil who represented Royal Canadian Legion Branch 514 in Gore Bay with her speech on the 1966 Batman series.

“I came runner up. I felt pretty good; (my parents) said it was the best performance I ever did. That was the most laughs I’ve ever gotten!” said Amara.

The winner in her division spoke about making a difference, a talk that resonated with Amara. She was also the only girl in her division, in contrast with the other age groups that had more female representation.

“She said her speech better than I have ever heard her say it. She actually had to pause for the people to stop laughing at her jokes,” said Amara’s dad Michael Zegil. He said the scores were all within seven points of each other in Amara’s division.

“I might need to up my game a little because those speeches were amazing,” Amara said.

Northern Ontario represented well at the competition. According to Mr. Zegil, the intermediate division winner was from Sault Ste. Marie and the senior division winner was from Kapuskasing.

In a change of pace from the Legion competition, Grade 12 Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) student April Torkopoulos took part in a French-language public speaking competition at York University’s Glendon campus on the very same day. She adapted the speech she had been presenting for the Legion competition about the cost of post-secondary education into French and entered the competition. Her French teacher Mel Cheng was the one who first informed her class about the opportunity.

“It was such an awesome experience. It was pretty different from the other public speaking competitions I usually go to, this was way bigger,” said April. Across all the post-secondary divisions there were 172 speeches during the event which ran from 11 am to 5 pm.

April netted an honourable mention for her performance, which she said was among her best.

“My mom took a video, and looking at that I was clear, loud and expressive. I couldn’t have done it any better—I was so proud,” she said. However, things took a turn after she had finished her presentation and a lady near the back of the room stood up and announced, “question numéro un.”

To April’s surprise, there was a question-and-answer period following each of the speeches.

“I know I was a bit choppy there but I answered it as best I could. I was chatting with some of my competitors and they said they study intensive French in their schools, way more than the hour I get per day,” said April.

As someone whose Legion-level competitions are now over for good, and someone who has now gained experience in a French competition, April extolled the benefits of practicing.

“It really pays off and your final presentation will reflect the time you spent on it. I could have practiced speaking French in general; I was so focused on my speech that I wasn’t practicing the language which would have helped with the questions,” she said.