Regional Military Youth of the Year competition goes all virtual due to COVID-19 concerns

Aika Davis, a junior at Zama American Middle High School, rehearses her essay before preparing to recite it to a panel of judges via video conference April 9 at Camp Zama, Japan, during the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Military Youth of the Year competition at the Asia regional level. The competition, normally done in person, was held virtually this year due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Aika Davis, a junior at Zama American Middle High School, rehearses her essay before preparing to recite it to a panel of judges via video conference April 9 at Camp Zama, Japan, during the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Military Youth of the Year competition at the Asia regional level. The competition, normally done in person, was held virtually this year due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Regional Military Youth of the Year competition goes all virtual due to COVID-19 concerns

by Noriko Kudo
US Army Garrison - Japan

CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 17, 2020) – Because social distancing had kept her and everyone else mostly confined to their homes for several weeks, Aika Davis had to make her case as a top military youth via webcam.

Davis, a junior at Zama Middle High School here, was in competition for the Military Youth of the Year and was required to recite an essay via a live video conference, which she did April 9 at U.S. Army Garrison Japan headquarters.

The competition, which the Boys & Girls Clubs of America hosts annually, aims to “recognize outstanding teens served by BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide,” according to its website.

The process for determining the six regional finalists involves candidates reading prepared essays to a panel of judges, but concerns over the coronavirus this year forced the organization to hold the Asia regional competition virtually. Similar concerns led the Department of Defense Education Activity to move to “virtual learning,” with all Camp Zama students doing their classwork from home since March 25.

“Although it would have been cool to meet [the] other youth representatives in person … this was my first time trying for the competition, so I did not feel any different,” Davis said.

Rather, Davis said, she spent the extra time at home focusing on and preparing for the competition. Davis decided the topic of her essay would be “Women’s Equality in Athleticism.” An avid athlete herself, Davis said she pulled from her own experiences growing up of being treated unequally in sports activities.

“[My essay] was about my passion for being a voice for the next generation [of women athletes] to come,” Davis said.

Davis said she gave her essay “a great deal of thought” and spent a considerable amount of time and energy ensuring she said everything she wanted to say.

“It felt good,” Davis said after reciting her essay to the virtual panel. “From this experience, I was able to not only overcome my fear of public speaking, but I also gained confidence in publicly advocating for something I’m passionate about.”

Hannah Maza, acting director of the Camp Zama Youth Center, served as Davis’ mentor for the competition. This was Maza’s first time mentoring a teen for the competition, but the fact that it was a virtual event was beneficial for both her and Davis because it allowed them to work together until right before the panel, Maza said.

It also helped Davis to have the full support of her local community, as well as additional support from Loretta Murray, the former Youth Center director, who had mentored teens for the four previous competitions.

Murray, now a training curriculum specialist at Camp Zama’s Child Development Center, has known Davis for more than four years and describes her as a “very well-rounded student [who] has great achievements both academically and athletically” and calls her “a voice for her school.”

“I knew Aika would be a perfect representative as Camp Zama’ youth for the competition,” Murray said. “Aika is the type of person who takes any challenge and always finds a way to overcome it.”

Maza said she was excited to provide Davis with any assistance she needed, from writing her essay and practicing her speech, to getting recommendation letters and completing the application process.

“Aika has always had interests in a lot of different things, but it wasn’t until this opportunity arose that she truly gave her all to search deep down inside for what she is passionate about, put that into words, and share it publicly,” Maza said.

When the regional results were shared April 10, Davis was not announced as the winner, but Maza said she and everyone who supported Davis is proud of her.

“I believe that with this experience, Aika is more confident in herself [and] knowing what her values are and what her passion is, and it will definitely help her move forward,” Maza said. “I want her to do it next year again.”

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