Twenty-eight years later, Mechele Tucker can still reel off Shakespeare's sonnet No. 130.
She first recited it at Wingate University's inaugural Shakespeare Competition in 1984, and later served as a judge at the annual contest for area middle and high school students while attending Wingate. Tucker is now an advanced placement English teacher at Forest Hills High School in Marshville and requires her nine AP students to participate in the Feb. 28 competition.
"They don't necessarily have a choice (about competing) but they take it very seriously," Tucker said.
Organizers expect about 300 or so students from Union County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and other area school districts at the event. Students recite a sonnet and a portion of a Shakespeare play before a group of judges.
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The competition is held in association with the English-speaking Union of the United States, a group that hopes the contests help students develop their understanding of Shakespeare and their ability to communicate that understanding.
The Wingate winner at the high school level receives a free trip to New York City to compete in the National Shakespeare Competition. Last year's winner at Wingate, K. Claire Hilton from Charlotte Christian School, came in second at the national level, the best placement to date for someone from the local competition.
"I'm very impressed that the students have the courage and ability to stand in front of people and recite something that is not in their common language," said Bob Doak, the founding director of the Wingate program and chair of the university's English department.
He said the competition appeals to intelligent, hard-working students. It also looks good on college applications, and students simply appear to take a lot of pleasure in participating, Doak added.
In the preliminary round, students need to recite one sonnet and one monologue from a play. That last about five minutes at most, Doak said. There are no props or costumes allowed, but students are encouraged to bring Shakespeare's words to life through their own interpretation.
Preliminary round winners move on to a final round that day and a chance to land a spot in the national competition.
As for Tucker, she recalls being nervous and not faring all that well when she was in the competition. She is hoping for better results for her students, including senior Marco Aguirre of Wingate.
Preparing to recite Sonnet No. 69 and the prince's speech from "Romeo and Juliet," Aguirre said the all of the work has helped him become more comfortable with public speaking.
"I'm not enthusiastic about speaking in front of people, but I'm not as scared now," he said.
Apparently, to overcome his stage fright, the play's the thing.