Rotary club

A contestant in the Rotary Club of Aspen’s 2018 Extemporaneous Speech Contest states her case to a panel of judges.

Three persuasive teens will get a nifty kickstart to their summer earnings next Wednesday, April 10, at the Rotary Club of Aspen’s Extemporaneous Speech Competition. The winner and second- and third-place finishers will pocket $1,000, $500 and $250, and all they’ll have to do is put up a good argument.

Now in its fourth year, the event is open to all high school students from Aspen to Rifle and takes place at the Mountain Chalet in Aspen. Participants must register in advance by sending their name, school and age to Robin Smith at or by calling her at 970-379-8340. The deadline to sign up has been extended to Monday, April 8.

Smith said she expects the competition to draw between 20 and 30 students from up and down the valley, though if more than that sign up, they’ll all be accommodated.

“I’d have to figure out a way, but I’d certainly try,” said Smith. “I don’t know how we’d do it, but we would.”

Competitors will choose one of five topics and be given 30 minutes to research it. They will then present a compelling three- to five-minute argument to a panel of judges from the Rotary Club and the Aspen community who Smith said will be “warm, non-threatening, enthusiastic and impartial.”

Previous topics have taken on such weighty issues as government-subsidized birth control, the value of truthfulness in governance and the effect marijuana legalization has had on teens and young adults.

Understanding that some issues are more sensitive than others, Smith said the topics will be different for freshmen and sophomores than they are for juniors and seniors.

Though only the top three arguers will walk away with cash, there will be prizes for every participant. More importantly, they’ll all earn experience that could one day benefit them every bit as much as money.

“Whether they’re going to be the winner or not, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to be in a position that they’re going to be in throughout their lives,” said Smith. “They’re going to have to engage and speak — whether it’s publicly or in an interview setting or an interview for college — and advocate for themselves.”

The competition is modeled on one that Rotary member Susan O’Neal helped organize at her home chapter in Phoenix that has been very popular, drawing over 100 students each year. And though a competition of this sort might seem to favor certain socio-economic and educational backgrounds, at both the Phoenix competitions and here in Aspen, that hasn’t been the case.

“It’s all walks of life,” said Smith. “Our winners have come from all different schools, and some have been in speech or drama, some have been in debate clubs, but others who have done really well have not.”

The competition is scheduled to start at 3 p.m., but students coming from downvalley high schools will be given later starting times, if necessary, to allow them to make the trip to Aspen after school. It’s definitely a trip worth making, given the potential earnings involved, and no teen should feel like they aren’t prepared already.

“Any kid who can argue their parents into submission certainly stands a great chance,” said Smith, before laughing. “Sadly, that’s most of them, since we all eventually cave.”

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at