By LINDSAY CAREY
The American Legion Southington Post 72 is holding its annual oratorical contest at Southington High School on Monday, Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m., providing the opportunity for students to win cash prizes and possibly move on to compete both statewide and nationwide.
The Post 72 contest is open to all high school students who either attend SHS or live in Southington, but attend another local high school.
The American Legion Oratorical Contest will test students’ skills in writing and memorizing a speech, said Kathleen Reilly, SHS tenth grade English teacher.
Although most students have had to prepare and give speeches in school, this competition requires a certain level of dedication.
“It is an immense undertaking to write and memorize a speech,” said Reilly, who has taken on running the contest for the second year.
In order to write the speech, students must explore the Constitution and American citizenry, specifically anything that discusses civil rights for Americans.
“They also need to have a general understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of an American citizen,” said Reilly.
Participants also will be asked to discuss assigned topics, which will be based on the different amendments. Reilly said prompts for assigned topics will be provided on the day of the competition, which gives them a short amount of time to prepare for it.
Reilly said preparing a thought process in advanced can help students when it comes time to craft their piece. Speeches from last year’s competition are available on the American legion website.
“Viewing those ahead of time will help students with their timing and cadence,” said Reilly.
The SHS teacher also recommends that participants reach out to her or another adult for guidance prior to the competition.
“Even if they aren’t sure about what they are writing, they should get something down on paper,” said Reilly. “This will help the adult better help them mold their point.”
Other than being prepared to speak on these topics, a student’s speech must showcase their ability to think and speak clearly.
The American Legion Oratorical Contest is a learning experience in many ways. The competition is an opportunity for students to get involved in the community, an experience that they may not have otherwise had.
“Some students don’t have any involvement in their community,” said Reilly. “This is a great way to connect students with a town organization.”
Participants will meet veterans from the American Legion Post 72 and work with educators throughout the process.
Reilly also said the contest is a good lesson in following rules. The American Legion is strict about how it runs the contest and provides no leniency.
“This is possibly the first time a student comes across such a stringent process,” said Reilly.
Another benefit of participating in the competition is the cash award granted at the local, state and national level. The winner of the Post 72 contest will receive a $500 and and will go on to the First District American Legion contest.
If the student wins that contest, they will receive another $200 and a trip to the State of Connecticut contest. A first place win at the state level will provide the student with another $1,500, second place will win $1,000, and third through seventh place winners will receive $500 each. The first place winner will progress to the national contest in Indianapolis, Ind., where they could win between $14,000 and $18,000.
“Some students do work in the community to earn a living, but many of the jobs available for high school students don’t capitalize on their particular talents,” said Reilly.
However, Reilly said this competition allows students to capitalize on their talents by competing and provides them with an opportunity to earn money for college.
“This is something these students have not experienced before,” said Reilly. “Usually their competitions are for recognition, not monetary payout.”
Unfortunately in the past, the contest has not attracted many students. Reilly said last year the contest seemed to pique students’ interest until they found out they were expected to memorize the speech without using notecards or any prompting. Last year, one student competed uncontested.
The panel of judges chosen for the local competition remains unbiased and can range from members of the community, school board, or veteran members of the American Legion.