Three Catholic high school students in Arizona have conquered the top fear of most Americans: public speaking.

Two emerged as one of nine finalists in the 10th annual Arizona Poetry Out Loud competition. A third took first place in the Phoenix branch of the English Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition and is advancing to nationals.

Hale Stewart, a junior at Notre Dame Preparatory (courtesy photo)
Hale Stewart, a junior at Notre Dame Preparatory (courtesy photo)

Hale Stewart, a junior at Notre Dame Preparatory, took first place for his monologue from “Romeo and Juliet” and a sonnet Feb. 28. He heads to the ESU National Shakespeare Competition in New York City April 26-28.

Prizes include cash and scholarships to prestigious theater programs. Approximately 2,000 teachers and 15,000 students in nearly 60 ESU Branch communities participate each year.

Oluwatosin Babarinde, a junior at Brophy College Preparatory
Oluwatosin Babarinde, a junior at Brophy College Preparatory (courtesy photo)

Two other Catholic school students excelled in performance poetry. Oluwatosin Babarinde, a junior at Brophy College Preparatory, is one of three students from the central region entering the Arizona Poetry Out Loud competition March 12 at Herberger Theater Center.

Courtney Hale is one of three representatives in the northern region and is from St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts partners with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, as well as regional and local organizations, to administer the Poetry Out Loud program in Arizona. The contest encourages youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation and helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage.

State finalists emerged first as classroom winners then school champions. Over 11,000 Arizona students and 47 schools in communities throughout the state participated in Poetry Out Loud this year.

“The students work hard to get to the finals,” said Robert C. Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “Watching such a diverse group of exceptional young people from around the state stand tall, recite, and display their understanding and love of poetry is truly remarkable and inspirational. These young people learn skills through this competition that will serve them for a lifetime.”

Phoenix poet and teaching artist Tomas Stanton will emcee the state competition. The event will also feature remarks by special guests Alberto Álvaro Ríos, Arizona’s Poet Laureate, and Eleanor Billington, program manager in the Literature & Arts Education Division of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each state-level winner receives $200 and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC, for national competition. The state winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. One runner-up receives $100; his or her school receives $200 for the purchase of poetry books.