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Students well-spoken at oratory contest

May 30, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

When asked to speak about an American invention, most of the contestants at the Civic Oration Contest chose the car, the light bulb and other life-improving products.

Smithsburg Middle School eighth-grader Joshua Neumann came up with whole different kind of American creation: The Bill of Rights.

Neumann's creativity helped carry the day in Thursday's contest, sponsored by the Modern Woodmen of America.

"I like to pick something that's not mainline, but still on topic," said Neumann, who claimed the first-place trophy and a $50 savings bond.

Neumann, 13, also won the contest two years ago, but did not participate last year.

"It comes as more of a surprise the second year because there's more pressure on you," he said. "Everyone did a great job. I honestly didn't expect to win."

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This was the sixth year the contest has been held in Washington County since Rick Bibbee started it locally in 1991. Modern Woodmen of America has sponsored the contest throughout the country since 1948.

If things go as he plans, the three- to five-minute speech he gave on Thursday will just be a warm-up for a lifetime of rhetoric for Neumann. He said he has wanted to be president since he was in second grade.

"I'd like to get America back on track," he said.

This year's second-place finisher got a slow start in the speech business. In fact, Jessica Pike did not make a peep until she was 2, said her father Ron.

"Her grandmother insisted we take her to an evaluator," Pike said. "And here she is today."

Jessica, 11, delivered a moving speech about the life-support machine, which kept a close friend of the family alive for an additional year.

"I would want to be on it," the Fountaindale Elementary fifth-grader said afterward. "It would help me to be alive and get better - unless if I were in pain."

Pike said she practiced her speech in front of friends, family, strangers - anyone who would listen.

Bibbee, a district agent with the Modern Woodmen, said he wanted to start a local contest to give kids a chance to hone their communication skills. His ultimate goal is to get 24 schools in Maryland to compete.

That would make the state eligible for a statewide competition, the winner of which would be able to compete for the $1,000 prize in the national contest.

"Pretty soon, we'll get there," he said.

Thursday's third-place finisher, Eastern Elementary School student Lauren Cecil, spoke about the motion picture.

The Modern Woodmen of America was founded in 1883 as a fraternal insurance society, guiding its members through a "financial forest."

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