Ask Austin Gage how it feels to win the West Virginia Poetry Out Loud finals, and he might be at a loss for words.
The Wheeling Park High School senior will compete April 29-30 in the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest in Washington, D.C. Gage participated in and earned the top spot at the state-level competition that took place last month in Charleston.
On Monday, West Virginia Division of Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, as well as representatives Jim Wolfe and Renee Margocee, presented Gage with his state-level trophy during a visit to the high school. In addition to advancing to the national level, he received $200 and secured a $500 stipend for WPHS to purchase poetry books.
Photo by Rebecca Olsavsky/Wheeling Park High School senior Austin Gage, holding trophy, stands with, from left, WPHS teacher and poetry coach Gail Adams, West Virginia Division of Culture and History representatives Jim Wolfe and Renee Margocee, WPHS Principal Amy Minch and Division of Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.
He is now in the running to win a $20,000 college scholarship at the national poetry competition.
WPHS teacher Gail Adams, Gage's poetry coach, is confident her student will perform well.
"Austin's achievement at the state level was quite an accomplishment, and we are sure he will perform well in Washington," Adams said. "He is an excellent student and person, and everyone at Wheeling Park High School is proud of him. He has an amazing voice, and he charmed the audience and judges in the state competition."
Gage, an involved member of his school's speech team, is excited to step onto the national stage.
"This is such an incredible opportunity. I'm glad I took the time to do it," said Gage, who almost didn't pursue the state competition. "Poetry's a beautiful event. It's amazing how much expression one can show from just reciting poems."
He won the state level reciting three poems with topics ranging from love, war and being unable to find peace. The most difficult part, he said, was making sure to hit keywords and communicate the authors' message through articulation and intonation.
"As a performer ... you always have a purpose," said Gage, who described his competitors as very supportive. "Just to hear that I affected them (through my performance) meant so much to me. It's like I did my job."