Post 555 prepares to host Oratorical Contest

Published 12:19 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – American Legion Post 555 is currently preparing to host the next iteration of one of the Legion’s longest running events, The American Legion Oratorical Contest, on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the American Village in Montevallo.

The contest is a long-standing tradition among the American Legion, which has hosted the contest since 1938. The contest serves to develop a deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high-school students.

In doing so, it is also intended to develop leadership qualities in participants as well as to educate students on the history of the nation’s laws, duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges afforded by citizenship in the United States.

In the competition, each student delivers a speech on a topic of their own choosing, with the only stipulation being that it must concern and address the Constitution of the United States.

“They have an eight-to-ten-minute speech that they give based around a topic concerning the Constitution,” said Jerry McClain, chairperson for the contest. “Our 2022 winner, Emma Noble, won based on her speech, ‘The Power of the Executive Order: Because I Said So!’ and she based it on the President’s ability to write executive orders. (Each student) can focus a speech on anything that they want as long as they pick different things they want to talk about and have it concern the Constitution.”

Following their initial speech, which must surpass eight minutes in length, but not exceed 10 minutes, in order to receive full points, contestants must then address the “assigned topic” portion of the contest. The assigned portion is formatted as another speech, three to five minutes in length, that addresses specific amendments to the Constitution.

Students are all provided with an identical list of four amendments that have the potential of being chosen for the assignment. At the time of the competition, one of the four will be selected and each contestant will then have to give a speech on the selected amendment. In the spirit of fairness, every contestant will be assigned the same amendment to discuss.

“They have to prepare for it and they’ll have no idea which one is going to be picked,” McClain said. “But once it’s picked, everybody does the same one. They’ll all have five minutes to prepare and look it over—hone in on what they want to say about it and then they give their three-to-five minute (speech).”

Currently, Post 555 is expecting a range of five to seven total participants to take part in the event. Contestants are typically selected by their schools and school counselors, who the Legion relies on to narrow down the selection process for the one student per school limit placed on the contest. However, those who are homeschooled are also welcomed to reach out and be involved in the contest as well.

“There’s a lot of homeschool kids in our area,” McClain said. “We try to get the word out to people to let them know that if they’d like to participate in this contest it is available to them.

For those students, McClain works to ensure that they enter the contest on equal footing and preparation with students in public schools and counselors that can help prepare them.

“If they’re wanting to participate, what I try to do is assign a legionnaire to help them to be prepared and to know what to expect,” McClain said. “Not only to just have them look at videos but to make sure that someone is assigned to them to help them understand how it works, what the process is and to just make it easier for that kid to come into the environment and present their case.”

The Oratorical Contest is limited to high-school students, with eligibility beginning at the beginning of their freshman year and running until their senior year graduation. Organizers also encourage students to get involved early, as a student is always welcomed to participate every year.

“We like to try to get them involved early so that they can hopefully try again the next year if they don’t go all the way,” McClain said. “They can always keep trying again (until they age out).”

The competition is a post-wide event, so does not necessarily cover every school or area present in Shelby County. As of this year’s competition, the post solicited candidates from the following high schools.

  • Indian Springs
  • Helena High School
  • Pelham High School
  • Briarwood Chris
  • Oak Mountain High School
  • Chelsea High School

Organizers also wish for students to know about the cash prize available to them should they win and advance through the stages of the Oratorical Contest. Typically, these monies are given directly to the contestant and not through other formats, such as scholarships.

Starting at the post level, there is anywhere from $300 to $500 they can earn there,” McClain said. “The next level, which would be the district level held the week after, will also have reward money available there.”

Past the district level, students have the opportunity to advance to the state and national levels, which offer significant rewards.

“At the national level, the maximum amount that can be received there is $25,000, with $20,000 to second place and $15,000 to third place,” McClain said. “Even if they just go to compete at the national level, there is $2,000 awarded to each one of them (just for making it that far).”

Students must be American citizens in order to participate.