World’s “Best Talkers” Came to Sanpete as Competitors, Left as Friends – Press Release 3/29/2004

DATE 03/29/2004 7:27 PM

This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.

World’s “Best Talkers” Came to Sanpete as Competitors, Left as Friends

They came, they saw and they talked and talked and talked. More than 50 of the world’s fastest and most persuasive speakers gathered in Mt. Pleasant this past weekend for the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships at Wasatch Academy. They represented some seven countries around the globe and competed in debate, impromptu speaking, interpretive reading and persuasive or after-dinner speaking.“It was just incredible, these teenagers are amazing, amazing public speakers,” said LeAnn Packard-Bird, event manager.

In the end, it was the Canadians who walked away with top honors, nabbing six of the top-10 placements, including the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, won by Sarah Mortazavi and Sarah Sahagian. “The girls ruled,” Packard-Bird said.

South Africa and the United States also had students among the top finishers. Wasatch Academy’s own Josh Nowitz placed 28th out of 52 contenders after the “grand finals” at the State Capitol Sunday. His classmate Jason Mischel was 39th.

But when all was said and done, the competitors didn’t really care that much about the final marks, Packard-Bird says. What ended up being more important was doing their best, learning a lot about themselves and making friends with people who live half way around the world. “There was a lot of camaraderie. The students were here competing against one another, and ended up being great friends.”

The four-day event started with competitions held at Wasatch Academy last Thursday and Friday. It was the first time a U.S. school has been awarded the prestigious honor of hosting the competition, which is sponsored by the Independent public Speaking Association. In order to take part, invited participants must have already won qualifying tournaments in their own countries or regions. One country could send a maximum of five students. Previously, the competition has been held in the United Kingdom, Argentina and Cyprus.

Joe Loftin, director of Wasatch Academy, and debate coach Tass Bey said the 129-year-old private school was a good choice to host the annual event. The academy has about 150 students from 21 states and 14 countries. The competition was also a perfect opportunity to share a bit of Sanpete County’s history and traditions with the world, says Monte Bona, a member of the Mt. Pleasant City Council and Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council.

Competitors stayed in Wasatch’s dormitories and ate in the school’s cafeteria. “They loved it and basically took over the campus,” Packard-Bird said with a laugh. “The coolest thing was that all of the kids got to experience every bit of Utah weather while they were here: there was warm sun, wind, rain and snow. We had kids leaving the cafeteria on Friday because it was snowing, and they had never seen snow before,” she says.

There were also a lot of activities in addition to debate and speaking, including a trip to Arches National Park and Moab, a Native American dance performance by Wasatch Academy student Ali Denny, and a turkey barbecue and performance by a Western entertainment group sponsored by Mt. Pleasant. “The city put on an incredible event, the performers were amazing,” Packard-Bird says.

On Saturday, the students went to Salt Lake City to attend a Jazz game and stay over at Little America, with the hotel helping sponsor the trip. Following the final competition rounds Sunday, there was a dinner at the Hard Rock Cafi. “The kids were dancing and singing in the aisles at the top of their lungs,” Packard-Bird says. “They were entertaining the entire restaurant. We had to drag them back on to the bus to go up to the Capitol to pick up their awards.”

Michael D. Zimmerman, former justice on the Utah Supreme Court, handed out the awards. Trophies were awarded to the top four finishers in debate and the top two competitors in the other events, as well as to the top over-all competitors, which took into account scores from all events.

Winners are:

Overall: Sarah Mortazavi, Canada, and Sarah Sahagian, CanadaDebate: Adam Zelmer, Canada; Michael Shapiro, United States; Chris Ryall, South Africa; Sarah Mortazavi, Canada

Interpretive Reading: Natasha Mavronicola, Cyprus; Sarah Sahagian, Canada

Persuasive Speaking Chris Ryall, South Africa; Sean Burnstein, Canada

After-dinner speaking Zahid Sunderani, Canada; Christina Meng, Canada

Impromptu speaking Sarah Mortazavi,Canada; Sarah Sahagian, Canada

“When it was all over, it was so cool to watch all of the kids hugging and kissing farewell and exchanging email address,” Packard-Bird says. “The students kept lingering, they just didn’t want to leave.”

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For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council
(435) 462-2502
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