See winning essays on Page A8 and A9 today
Patriotism ran high Saturday night at VFW Post 7547 as a half dozen young people took to the podium to share with gathered veterans and auxiliary members essays they had written as part of the local group’s annual Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen competitions.
This year’s event, said post commander Charles Curtis, was the most heavily participated in in quite some time, a fact that brought him and VFW members great pride.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with our competition this year,” Curtis said. “We had great participation, and the essays were wonderful. It gives you so much confidence in our future leaders.”
Middle and high school students from Sampson County and Clinton City schools were encouraged to enter one of two competitions, where participants were given topics in which to base their essays. There were 68 essays submitted by middle school students and another 28 from those in high school.
“The entries were just excellent; they really were,” Curtis said. “We were very pleased with the number who participated and the quality of the work they submitted.”
A panel selected the top three winners in each category, with brothers Midway High student William Christopher Warren II taking first place in the Voice of Democracy competition and Midway Middle student Zachary Odom Warren selected first place winner in Patriot’s Pen.
“Will and Zachary have enjoyed being a part of this competition,” said their mother, Linda Best Warren in submitting the boys’ essays to the newspaper. “Both have just recently earned their Eagle Scout rank and I thought this would be a good way for them to show others what being an American means to them. They both said they wanted to compete again next year.”
Both Will and Zachary said the essay gave them an opportunity to share their feelings about America and patriotism, two things near and dear to them, particularly since members of their family had served in the military.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” William Warren said. “It was a good experience and I had a great time writing it, even though it took forever.”
In Patriot’s Pen, second place went to Union Middle student Diana Ester Lerma and third place to UMS student Kenneth Spell. Second place winner in the Voice of Democracy contest was Clinton High student Robert T. Little II and third place went to Jacob C. Smith, also of CHS.
Winners, who, along with their parents, were treated to a steak dinner Saturday night courtesy of the VFW, said they were thrilled to be a part of the competition.
“It was about awareness for me,” said Jacob Smith. “It was meaningful for me to write about what patriotism meant to me.”
Winner Gage Spell said writing the essay gave him a chance to let others know how he really felt about his country and patriotism. “I really enjoyed it.”
Lerma agreed. “This was special. I was pleased that I had a chance to participate and thrilled that I actually placed. This shows people that you can participate and you can win.”
The VFW commander said he went to every school in the city and county, encouraging participation and passing out brochures with the rules and deadlines.
At Union Middle, he said, teachers were thrilled their students were offered the opportunity, so much so that they made it a part of students’ grades in English.
“They (UMS teachers) really thought it was a great idea, something they could tie into their studies,” Curtis said.
Once the brochures went out, Curtis said entries started coming in … and they kept coming. “We actually had more essays at our post than in the other 16 posts in our district. I was very pleased. We’ve truly not had that many people take part, that kind of exposure, in 10 years or more.”
In addition to essay winners, the VFW selected their Teacher of the Year from among eight nominees. Winner was Hobbton Middle’s Mark Godwin. He was chosen, Curtis said, based on a 350-word essay that the nominator wrote about their selected teacher.
Godwin will go on to compete at the district level.
“We are pleased with all our winners and all our participants this year,” Curtis said. “I’m so very proud of these young people. As commander, it gives me great pride to say these young folks are from Sampson County and representing our post.”