LCHS freshman wins speech competition

Imagine it's 2013 and the state of California is at war against Arizona and Nevada. At war over water.

It's the first war between the states since the Civil War, and its outcome could be deadly for many of the millions of California residents.

That's the premise devised by La Cañada High School freshman Sam Whitefield to draw an audience into his speech Thursday night during the Crescenta Cañada Lions Club student speech competition at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Whitefield's dramatic dissertation on the drastic need for water conservation won first place in the competition and, in addition to a prize of $50 prize, launches him off to the next of several levels of competition against youths across the state.

If Whitefield, 15, wins the next level — also at Verdugo Hills Hospital on Feb. 23, against youths from Northridge, Toluca Lake and Northwest Glendale — he will win $75 and entrance into the next level, a regional competition for a $125 prize. He would then go on to a district competition for a chance at $4,000. The next level is an area competition, which has a grand prize of $6,000. And, after that, is a statewide final contest for $10,000.

Each year, in addition to the organization's many other altruistic activities, Lions Club chapters provide about $103,000 in student scholarships through speaker competitions, according to Art Rinaman, president of the Crescenta Cañada Lions Club, who was master of ceremonies for Thursday night's competition.

In the past 72 years, about $1.5 million has been given out to youths from across California, Rinaman said.

Three years ago, a La Cañada High School student, Kyle Spitznegal, went on to win the $4,000 district level competition. Spitznegal used his winnings to further his scholastic endeavors and is now a junior at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Rinaman added.

During Thursday night's competition, Whitefield was one of four La Cañada area youths to present their takes on the current water situation. The speeches offered statistical analysis, as well as possible solutions to what many consider a water crisis.

A few of the speakers contend the state's current water issue is treated much too delicately and people are ignoring the potential crisis.

“A majority of Californians are oblivious,” said Elaine Park, 16, a student at Flintridge Preparatory School, during her speech at the competition. “It's the pink elephant in the room … we are turning a blind eye to our own ignorant actions,” she added.

Although Park, Whitefield, and fellow speaker, Tyler Stenzel, 16, a junior at La Cañada High School, all urged Southern California residents to continue or begin to save water, one speaker, Nick Koeppen, 16, also a junior at LCHS, said he thinks that individuals conserving water isn't the answer to the problem.

“I'm being realistic, we've grown up kind of spooked,” he said, adding that it's going to take a combination of several solutions to solve the current and future crisis.

“I strongly believe we need to consider funding for more ground water basins and aquifers,” Koeppen said, adding, “Statistics show that one-inch of rain water falling on one-acre [of land] produces 27,000 gallons of water.”

When interviewed by the Valley Sun, all four contestants in the competition said they'd not been very well informed about water issues prior to researching the issues for their speeches.

“I realized as I researched that it's much more of an issue than I thought,” Whitefield said.

All of the contestants had parents and/or siblings watching Thursday night as the youths delivered their condensed versions of many hours of research.

Whitefield's mother, Sara said she and husband, Paul were delighted to watch as their son elaborated on his theme.

“Sam wanted to write a speech that he liked, so we said 'go ahead,'” she said, adding, “He's always been interested in politics, speech and drama, so we told him to be himself, and this is what he came up with.”

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