By Bill Schlichting

Pilot staff writer

It was stiff competition at Oregon's 2008 statewide Poetry Out Loud contest in Salem on Saturday, so when Brookings-Harbor High School senior Sophia Soberon heard her name announced as the winner, she was ecstatic.

andquot;I was sitting in the audience when they announced my name and I thought, 'Oh my God I can't believe it,andquot; Soberon said about her reaction.

She said it was stiff competition. She watched some of the readers and thought they were more likely to win.

Soberon won $200 and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for herself and a chaperone where she will take part in the national competition.BHHS will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books.

In Washington, Soberon will represent Oregon against contestants from each state, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. The national competition takes place April 28 and 29 at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium and awards a total of $44,000 in prize money to 12 finalists. Their schools receive another $500 for their libraries.

In all Poetry Out Loud -a collaborative project of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission - awards more then $100,000 at state- and national-level contests.

The competition began with more than 2,000 students from 19 high schools throughout Oregon. BHHS had a school competition Feb. 29. It was there Soberon was chosen to compete at the state competition, which took place in Loucks Auditorium of the Salem Public Library.

In Salem, Soberon faced competitors from 13 schools. All the state-level contestants prepared three poems from a 400-poem anthology provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Each recited two poems, with six finalists reading a third.

The contestants were judged by Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada, poet Judith Barrington and Primus St. John, and theater director Scott Palmer. The criteria included accuracy, voice inflection, evidence of understanding, level of difficulty and eye contact.

Soberon is experienced at dealing with all the criteria, thanks not only to her stage presence acting and dancing but more importantly, four years of debate and speech, she said.

andquot;It was mostly Art Dingle who helped me a lot,andquot; Soberon said.

Soberon recited andquot;Dover Beachandquot; by Matthew Arnold, andquot;Bilingual Bilingeandquot; by Rhina P. Espailat and andquot;The Meaning of the Shovelandquot; by Martn Espada.

In the fall, Soberon plans to attend Southern Oregon University in Ashland where she hopes to merge her interest in cultural studies with performance.

Poetry reading is only one way that helps people improve themselves, she said. It helps people learn how to be articulate and grab the attention of the audience.

andquot;It really does influence our confidenceandquot; Soberon said. andquot;There will always be a time in our lives, no matter what we do, that we'll have to engage in public speaking.andquot;

Nicole Hernandez, 17, of Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy, was declared the state runner-up. Her prize is $100, with her school library receiving $200 for poetry purchases.

Nicole recited andquot;To the Desertandquot; by Benjamin Alire Sanez; andquot;Sonnet CXXXandquot; (My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun) by William Shakespeare, and andquot;Bilingual Bilinge.andquot;

Every participant received a hardbound copy of andquot;From Here We Speak,andquot; an anthology of Oregon poetry.