Kids celebrate 51 years of poetry

Sarah Gilbert / The Collegian

The 51st annual Peach Blossom Festival 2009 kicked off Thursday, attracting 6,000 participants from 200 Central Valley schools onto the Fresno State campus.

The two-day event was started more than 50 years ago by a joint effort from the Speech Communication and Theatre Arts Departments. Their goal was to give young students the experience of performing a poem or reciting a story in front of a crowd and to introduce them to the Fresno State campus.

The event is now put on solely by the Communication department and all 16 students running the show are hand picked by the event director. These students are selected based on their attitude, responsibility, dedication and personality. They have to enroll in a Communication class and have all the responsibilities an event coordinator would have, such as recruiting schools, t-shirt design, registration and communication with participants.

Children from kindergarten to sixth grade from public, private and home schools all over the Central Valley were eligible to participate.

The event was directed by Fresno Sate graduate, Stacie Moore, who said that the experience the kids get is priceless.

“These kids come so prepared,” Moore said. “From kindergarten to sixth grade, they learn to be sure of themselves. They’re not going to get many opportunities to do something like this very often.”

Children pick their own poem or short story, memorize the piece and then recite it to a panel of judges — some of whom were even participants from the 1960s and ’70s — using hand gestures and facial expressions. They are not allowed to use props.

Jerry Marquez, 19, a communication major, volunteered and said that the kids’ preparations start long before the event.

“They work really hard,” Marquez said. “They’re practicing in school sometimes months before the event takes place. The amazing thing is that they have it all memorized and aren’t reading from anything.”

Best friends Erika Vilhauer and Emily Bevins, both 9 years old and from Steinbeck Elementary, returned for the third year in a row to participate as a team and said that they picked their poem months ago.
“We went through our favorite book and found the best poem that we liked best,” Vilhauer said. “It’s about teddy bears and it’s both our favorites.”

Vilhauer’s mother, Janet Vilhauer, 40, said that she sees the benefits of her daughter’s participation.
“It’s definitely something I encourage,” Vilhauer said.

“This is something she wants to do on her own and it teaches them to talk in front of people and gives them a lot confidence.”

Fresno State athletes were also at the event to give out autographs and meet the participants. Joe Bernardi, sophomore and Fresno State football center, was in charge of recruiting athletes to the event and said that it’s a good experience for all involved.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to meet the athletes,” Bernardi said. “These guys are coming out in their free time, between classes and the kids love meeting them and they love meeting the kids.”
Moore said that most kids are in awe of the athletes and their presence sends a positive message to the participants.

“The kids see these athletes and they look at them like heroes,” Moore said. “We want the kids to come to campus and see the athletes and think to themselves, ‘I want to go to Fresno State and grow up to be just like these guys.’”

Each participant is given a button with the event name and date, a certificate for participation and a sticker. T-shirts were also available for purchase for $10.

“The past participants were so excited to see how the event has grown,” Moore said.

“And it’s an event that rewards students with a great experience, introduces them to the arts and a positive experience with the campus. It’s just a great experience all around.”

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