* What: NAACP ACT-SO 2014 competition
* When: Deadline is by the end of the day Saturday. Competition is April 5.
* To apply: Applications are online at chattanooganaacp.org. The competition is at the Center for Creative Arts High School.
* For more information: Call Vincent Phipps at 423-400-1040.
De'Von Sanderfer was a shy child whose knack for poetry and public speaking emerged when she gave a class presentation - in the second grade.
She published her first poem in sixth grade.
Now the Howard High School sophomore has set her sights on a bigger stage. Next week, she will be among a record-breaking number of local high school students competing in the local NAACP's ACT-SO competition and the chance to move on to the national competition.
Local winners get an all-expenses-paid trip to the national competition in Las Vegas in July, and the national winner gets up to $5,000 cash and the choice of a laptop computer or tablet.
"I just want to have fun," said De'Von while in band practice this week. "I'll try my best."
Local high school students have until the end of the day Saturday to fill out an online application for the contest April 5.
Categories for competition include the humanities, sciences, performance arts, visuals arts and business.
More than 160 students representing 17 local high schools have submitted applications, the most since former NAACP president Eddie Holmes started the local program in 2002, according to ACT-SO chairman Vincent Phipps. About 80 students applied last year.
Eight people went to the national competition in 2013. Phipps expects to take twice as many people this year.
The NAACP's ACT-SO program, or Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, is a year-long program designed to recruit, improve and inspire academic and cultural achievement among black high school students.
It is a program that "rewards youth for creativity, effort and passion," said Phipps, who has led the program since 2007.
Phipps, a local author and leadership and communication trainer, is among several local professionals who work with winners to prepare them for the national competition. Other coaches, mentors and local judges include professional musician Booker T. Scruggs, Howard High band director Dexter Bell, local pharmacist Dr. Chad Garrison and Chattanooga School of the Arts and Sciences graduate and classical vocalist Adrian Brown.
Sanderfer, who said she was once one of the shyest people in her family, is on Howard's track, soccer and wrestling teams. She also plays saxophone in the band while maintaining a 3.9 grade point average.
But the rest of the time, the 16-year-old orator said, she will concentrate her attention on memorizing and presenting her poem. She said there's no way she's backing out. She advises others to pursue what they love.
"Pick something you like," she said. "Stick with it and just do it."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423-757-6431.