Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. News

Newsome High duo duel in Rotary '86 speech competition

BRANDON — Newsome High School students Travis McLeod and Savannah Bolender came to the Brandon Rotary '86 meeting on March 6 determined to "light up" the club.

McLeod, a senior, and Bolender, a junior, engaged in the group's annual oratorical contest by embracing the theme of how to "light up Rotary." The students took different approaches to winning the competition.

Bolender spoke using much of her personal experience in volunteering for Rotary-sponsored events.

"This is important because I can stand up here all day spouting facts to you that I researched and giving examples that I looked up, but if I have not seen the positive impact Rotary can have, it means nothing, my words mean nothing," Bolender said. "But I have seen it. I have seen the smiles on children's faces, I've heard them ask to come again next year, and I know that they are grateful."

McLeod, however was able to win the judges over by his use of research regarding the Rotary Club's work to help resolve polio and impact the scarcity of clean water.

In his address: "1.1 billion people need our help. Alone, what can we possibly do," McLeod said. "The answer is simple. We may all light a candle, much like Rotary has done. We can light these candles by helping those who need us most, by donating our time and our efforts to charitable foundations. And when we do this, we all light a candle that when combined, drives back the darkness."

Rotary member Joe Cole, former Congressional candidate Eddie Adams and Toastmaster Yael Eylat-Tanaka judged the contestants on speech organization, enunciation and delivery, paying close attention to pregnant pauses.

McLeod emerged as the winner, but both students left a strong impression.

At the end of their speeches, the students took the time to thank their teacher, Robin Emery.

"For those who say 'I don't know about the kids today,' these are the kids today," Emery said. "They are fantastic."

McLeod advances to the Rotary area competition, which is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheraton Tampa East.

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at