LAKEWOOD RANCH — When Maddy Kahler performs in front of audiences, she generally jumps, chants and cheers.
But Maddy, a McNeal Elementary School fifth-grade student who travels with Cheer Funtastics, a cheerleading squad, proved a master at a different type of performance when she won the Manatee County 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking Contest May 10.
To win the contest, an event Tropicana sponsors to help children in fourth through sixth grades learn how to write and deliver a speech, Maddy gave a 2-minute, 45-second speech at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.
To make it to the county finals, Maddy first had to be declared the best speech-giver in her class and, then, her school.
When Maddy’s teacher announced the contest to her students, Maddy immediately knew the topic for her speech: Skylar Dunn, a 15-year-old leukemia survivor and Maddy’s cheerleading teammate.
The speech tells the story of how Maddy and her Funtastics teammates, who began to call themselves “Skylar’s Army,” helped Skylar overcome cancer with financial and moral support.
“I thought nobody could fight like Skylar did,” Maddy said. “From my speech, people could learn what happened. Little girls on a cheerleading squad rallied around her. It’s very unique.”
Maddy, a daughter of a school vice principal, Jennifer, and teacher, Jeff, spent about two weeks preparing her speech.
Writing is not her strong suit; Maddy says math comes easiest to her.
Maddy memorized her speech by reciting it more than 200 times, wherever she could: in the car, the kitchen, her bedroom.
She had the speech written on note cards as a “security blanket,” but she didn’t need them.
Last year, Maddy participated in the Tropicana speech contest, but she never made it past the school round.
“I’m not very tall, so I was small and self-conscious last year,” Maddy said.
This year, the larger county stage did not frighten Maddy.
Twenty-six elementary school students from across the county made it to the Manatee fairgrounds.
A panel of judges declared Maddy the winner, using criteria such as the delivery of and the substance of the speech.
“I was a little nervous, but I like larger crowds because there are more people around you,” Maddy said. “If you mess up, you’re not the only one who looks bad. I think it’s sometimes easier to talk in front of strangers than people you know.”
Maddy says the win gives her confidence.
As the speech contest winner in Manatee County, Maddy received a plaque. Her school also receives a trophy that will travel to other counties across the state.
“It’s nice to know I can give a good speech and that people think I did a really good job,” Maddy said. “I’m still surprised I won.”
“Skylar was not going to fight leukemia alone. Skylar’s Army was going to fight it with her … leukemia attacked Skylar. But along with Skylar’s Army, she fought back and won.”
Braden River Elementary School’s Katie Murphy took home third place at the contest, as well.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected]