Kent talking his way to top

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

Darrell Kent has earned the right to sleep in late.

In the days before his graduation from Demopolis High School this week, Darrell has begun turning his sights away from his career at DHS and toward his freshman year at Samford in the fall.

Before then, however, he will represent Alabama in the Southern Baptist Convention Speakers Tournament in Orlando, Fla., June 10-11. His trip is one of the perquisites for winning the state competition, beating seven other district winners. By taking top honors, he also earned a generous scholarship from the State Board of Missions, matched by Samford.

The decision to enter the speaking competition came when he and his family were searching for scholarship money. “Mom is the one who found it,” said Darrell, but Martha Kent said it was her husband, the Rev. Rex Kent, pastor of First Baptist Church in Demopolis, who heard about it and suggested Darrell enter.

The Speakers Tournament is limited to Southern Baptist students in grades 10-12. In preparation for the competition, Darrell attended a workshop in January. Each contestant was given a choice of 10 topics.

Darrell chose “Why I Need the Church,” and subtitled it “The Church is the Foundation of a Strong Faith.”

Throughout the month of March he worked on writing the four-to-six-minute speech and memorizing it. He called on his English teacher, Bridget Cain, and his parents to proofread it, and his father helped him with outside research.

Although no others in Darrell’s church or the district entered the competition, he still had to face a panel of three judges. They suggested ways to improve his delivery, but for the most part they didn’t comment on the content of his speech except to encourage him to cite his resources.

In the beginning Darrell’s nervousness had him speeding through the delivery of the speech in practice. After countless repetitions, however, he found himself more relaxed, and the delivery became more natural. His time increased by almost 40 seconds.

Darrell was the fifth competitor to present his speech for the state panel of judges.

“The first minute of the first speech I thought I was done,” he said. The young woman who started things off was excellent, but she stumbled in the delivery when she lost her place. Several others did the same.

Darrell got more out of winning the competition than the scholarship. “I got a greater understanding of the Bible,” he said, “and I know I can stand up in front of 250-300 people and be comfortable with it.”

He may not need that ability in the career path he has chosen. He plans to study pharmacy.

As a “preacher’s kid,” Darrell has kept his faith by realizing that “strong faith is just a peace. You’ve always got God there backing picking you up when you’re down.”

As he said in his speech, “The church is a tool that God uses to provide us a place of fellowship, a place of refuge, a place of teaching and a place to experience His love.”

Darrell is a member of DHS’ championship baseball team, a group of young men that has grown close as they played with and against each other for years. That closeness extends beyond the ball field.

“A lot of the people on the team I’ve gone to church with,” he said. “A lot of players on the team are Christians. We feed off each other.”

Darrell already has determined his priorities. Toward the end of the season a conflict loomed between a possible game and the Speakers Tournament. His coach, James Moody, didn’t hesitate to tell him to skip the game. As it turned out, the conflict didn’t occur, so Darrell didn’t have to miss any playing time.

But he also has decided not to play ball in college. While he believes he could probably make the team as a walk-on, the sport is not in his future.

College ball “is a lot of work. I felt like going out on top,” he explained. “It was great for 10 years, but I have to move on.”

The scholarship from the Speakers Tournament will help him do that. He encouraged any student interested in attending one of the Baptist colleges in Alabama to try for it.

“It took a little time, but it was well worth it in the end.”