WELLSBURG - When Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech at the burial site for one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles, he likely didn't foresee that it would one day be used to help students hone their public speaking skills.
But for 49 years, through the efforts of the Wellsburg American Legion and Brooke County Commission, sixth-graders from several Brooke County and Weirton schools have displayed their oratory skills through the Gettysburg Address Speech Contest.
This year's winners are Andrea Alimario of St. Joseph School in Weirton, who placed first; and A.J. Mitchell and Emily Donley, both of Wellsburg Middle School, who placed second and third, respectively.
YOUNG ORATORS — Participating in the Brooke County Commission’s Gettysburg Address Speech Contest Tuesday at the Brooke County Courthouse were, front from left, Katherine Marks, Chad Durante, George Makricostas, A.J. Mitchell, who placed second; Andrea Alimario, who placed first; Emily Donley, who placed third; and alternates Talon Chambers and Chloe Blount; and back, Gabrielle Snyder, Follansbee Councilman Jim Miller and Brooke County Museum curator Ruby Greathouse, who served as judges; Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis, John Giesmann of the West Liberty University Registrar’s Office, who served as judge; alternates Rebecca Conaway and Abby Nickerson, and James McFadden, the contest’s coordinator. Aleksey Rasz also was an alternate for Wellsburg Middle School. -- Warren Scott
Cash prizes of $50, $30 and $20 were awarded to the first, second and third place winners, respectively, and each participant, including alternates, received $5, a gift certificate, Brooke County bicentennial commemorative coins and a T-shirt commemorating the event.
The Wellsburg Kiwanis Club and Eagle Manufacturing made monetary contributions for the event, while Ruby Greathouse, curator of the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center, supplied the coins and Marty Bartz, Brooke County assistant superintendent of schools, provided the T-shirts.
The daughter of Alain and Cynthia Alimario of Weirton, Alimario said she practiced after school with her parents and teacher, Recheal Fuscardo.
The son of Steve and Wendy Mitchell, Mitchell said to avoid becoming nervous, he focused on three spots at the back of the courtroom of the Brooke County Courthouse, where the contest was held.
And asked how she prepared, Emily Donley said, "We just had a lot of practices after school."
James McFadden, the contest's coordinator for 37 years, said the judges once again had a difficult task in selecting three winners from the talented competitors.
Also competing were: Evita Yang, Gabrielle Snyder and George Makricostas, all of Follansbee Middle School; Katherine Marks of Wellsburg Middle School; and Chad Durante of St. Paul School, who donned top hat and coat with tails to resemble Lincoln.
Serving as alternates were Abby Nickerson of St. Paul School, Aleksey Rasz, Rebecca Conaway and Talon Chambers, all of Wellsburg Middle School; and Chloe Blount of Follansbee Middle School.
McFadden took time to recognize the judges: Follansbee Councilman Jim Miller, John Giesmann of the West Liberty University Registrar's Office and Greathouse.
He also applauded the pupils' teachers for preparing them for the contest. In addition to Fuscardo, they were: Robyn Heaton at Wellsburg Middle School, Megan Harless at Follansbee Middle School and Greg Pugh at St. Paul School.
McFadden also acknowledged his wife Tammy and son Paul for their assistance over the years.
As a prelude to their recitations of the Gettysburg Address, many of the pupils included a bit of its historical background.
Lincoln delivered the speech at the Nov. 19, 1863 dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, which was established at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.
More than 7,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were buried at the site, though Confederate soldiers who could be identified were later unearthed and moved to their respective states. Nearly 1,000 casualties couldn't be identified.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)