By SHERIDAN CYR
Four high school seniors squared off Monday, Jan. 8 at the annual Oratorical Contest at Southington High School, sponsored and conducted by the American Legion Kiltonic Post 72. The students were judged on their speaking skills by State Senator Joe Markley (R-16), State Rep. Rob Sampson (R-81) and SHS security guard, Randy Blair.
The annual competition, sponsored by American Legion, challenges students to craft an eight to 10 minute speech on a topic of their choosing about the U.S. Constitution.
After they are judged on the first speech, they are given a randomly selected article to review with just a few minutes’ time. They then return in front of the judges and offer a three to five minute speech on the subject.
“The students who sign up do all their research on whatever they’re passionate about in the Constitution,” said Edward DeGumbia, Commander of the American Legion Department of Connecticut. “Then it’s right off the cuff, no notes, no prompts, they just deliver their speech to the room.”
The local winner advances to the district contest for a chance to compete at the state level, and finally, nationally. The contest stems from one of the three pillars of the American Legion, “Americanism.”
“This contest gives students insight to our Constitution and the ideas of our founding fathers,” said DeGumbia. “Out of these students come future leaders.”
Kathleen Reilly, a Southington High School English, popular culture, and public speaking teacher, is the liaison to the American Legion. She helps organize the oratorical contest, and even offers assistance to the students who take on the challenge.
“They’re really on their own here,” said Reilly. “I just have a meeting with them and then I offer myself up to them for assistance, but they usually do it on their own.”
Reilly has been the liaison for four years, and has seen the students grow. She said that she sees contestants gain confidence as they become better prepared for their speeches. She commended the students who stepped up to the plate.
“They should be proud that they even gave it a shot. That’s more than what many of their peers would do,” she said. There is no limit to the number of participants who can sign up to compete, yet a small number take the bait.
Judges rate the speakers in a point-based system on originality, logic, comprehensiveness, voice, style, body action and more. A wrench was thrown in the contest early on, when the third judge, State Rep. John Fusco (R-80) was not in attendance and unreachable through phone calls.
Luckily, Blair stepped up to the plate as judge number three after a short delay.
“The focus of the event was the students and their abilities,” said SHS principal Brian Stranieri. “I’m proud of the way they represented our district, and the judge’s absence didn’t affect that.”
Fusco, afterwards, regretfully apologized for missing the contest. “I’m embarrassed to have to say it but I have no excuse,” he said. “I let people down, and no one feels worse about it than I do. Just know it wasn’t purposeful.”
With three judges in place, the contest began. The Jan. 8 contest included Mercy High School student Jennifer Magnoli and three SHS students, Keegan Smith, Steven Cova, and John Zapata.
Magnoli was crowned as this year’s winner for her interpretation of the second amendment. Her speech explored individual and collective rights theories when it comes to citizen’s rights to own firearms. As the winner, Magnoli represent the town in the district contest.
Zapata took second place, while Smith and Cova tied for third.
“This contest has been a wonderful experience for me,” Magnoli said. “I’m thankful for having the opportunity to speak on our Constitution.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.