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Okanogan High School student Madeline Luther is the defending Washington State Poetry Out Loud Champion, a title she would like to keep. The 2020 competition kicks off Thursday.

OKANOGAN — Nine Okanogan High School students compete Thursday night for the chance to advance to Poetry Out Loud, a national recitation contest.

This is the 12th year students have participated in the contest, presented in partnership with the state Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The program is designed to encourage high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition.

Finalists competing at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria include Allie Eylar, Anna Arroyo, Madeline Luther (last year’s state champion), Karina Torres, Malina Weigel, Olivia Richards, Daisy Berthelson, Sydney Varshock and Destyne McDonald.

“We are looking forward to a good group of recitals this year, including last year’s state champion,” said Dennis O’Connor, the Okanogan High School teacher organizing the event, which is sponsored by the school’s English department. “Madeline Luther hopes to return to the National Championship again this year.”

The winner of this stage of the event receives $100, the runner up receives $75, and third-place winner receives $50. In addition, the champion will continue on to the eastern regional contest in Spokane on Jan. 31. The winner from that competition will advance to the state championship in Tacoma on March 7. The state champion will receive an all-expenses-paid trip for two to compete for $50,000 in scholarships in Washington, D.C.

The event is free and open to the public, though seating is limited. Donations will be accepted. For information, call O’Connor at 422-3770.