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Dayton Student Wins 2016 Poetry Out Loud State Finals, Advances to Nationals in Washington D.C.

Thomas Ellison, a senior at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Dayton, won Ohio’s 11th annual Poetry Out Loud (POL) State Finals held on Saturday, March 19, at WOSU@COSI in downtown Columbus. As the state champion, Ellison earned a $300 prize and an all-expense-paid trip to compete in the POL national finals May 2-4 in Washington, D.C. Thanks to his success his school library will receive $500 for the purchase of poetry books.


“This was a very humbling experience,” Ellison said, moments after winning. “I couldn’t have won without the support from God, my mom, my teachers, and my school.”

To earn the win, Ellison recited, “The Delta” by Bruce Bond, “Translations from English” by George Starbuck, and “The Affliction of Richard” by Robert Bridges.  

“I pray every time before I go on stage, or even recite to myself in the mirror. The nationals will be no exception,” Ellison explained, as he stood next to his beaming mother.

Ellison received mentorship from his English teacher, Jim Brooks, and University of Dayton Professor Emeritus and nationally known poet, Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin. Both will be helping Ellison prepare for the 2016 national finals. Ellison will represent Ohio and compete to become the national champion. The total award pool is $50,000, including a $20,000 top prize for the winner.

Noah Martin, a sophomore at Westerville Central High School, finished as this year’s first runner-up in the state finals. Martin received $200 and earned $200 for his school library. Briana McGee, a sophomore at Springfield High School, placed as the second runner-up and received $100, with $50 for her school library.

All three state winners received a framed original block print, created by Cleveland artist Michael Gill. The print incorporated the poem, "Pattern & Snarl," by Dr. Amit Majmudar, Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. Majmudar also recited two poems from his new collection, Dothead, at the state finals on March 19.  

Former state senator Eric H. Kearney of Cincinnati, who sponsored and secured passage of legislation creating the position of Ohio Poet Laureate, emceed this year's state finals.

More than 9,000 students from nearly 60 schools around Ohio participated in POL competitions this year. After semifinals in Dayton, Cleveland, and Columbus, 12 state finalists competed at Saturday’s competition. They performed classic and contemporary poems for a panel of poetry and performance experts. Students were awarded points for voice and articulation, physical presence, dramatic appropriateness, level of complexity, evidence of understanding, accuracy, and overall performance.

Ohio has an outstanding track record at the national level. Ohio champion Jackson Hille was the nation's first POL winner in 2006, earning $20,000, and Lake Wilburn earned $10,000 as the 2014 national runner-up. Last year’s Ohio champion, Sarah Binau, finished among the top nine national finalists and earned $1,000. In addition, Ohio champion Mido Aly was among the top five national finalists in 2009, and 2013's state champion, Taribo Osuobeni, received an honorable mention.

The POL National Finals will feature students from every state as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Semifinals will take place in three separate contests on Tuesday, May 3, with Ohio's champion competing with the region one contestants from 9 a.m.-noon. Watch the entire national finals through a live, one-time only webcast. Gather fellow poetry fans for a viewing party and engage in social media. Follow along on Twitter with @PoetryOutLoud and @NEAarts and use #POL16 in related posts. For more information on the event, webcast, or viewing parties, visit or call 202-682-5606.

The nation's largest youth poetry recitation competition is presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation in partnership with the Ohio Arts Council. The 
Poetry Out Loud program encourages high school students to learn about great poetry, master public-speaking skills, build self-confidence, and study their literary heritage.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts—both new and established—bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education.


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