Oratorical program: Back to the Basics By Cameran Richardson
American Legion department Oratorical chairmen gathered in Indianapolis Sept. 28-30 for the 20th annual National Combined Americanism Conference. The focus of their program session was “Back to Our Oratorical Basics.” The chairmen took a test that challenged their knowledge of the Oratorical program such as the history of the contest, contestant participation, contest rules and procedures, and more.
The questions for the test were gathered from The American Legion’s High School Oratorical Scholarship Program, “A Constitutional Speech Contest,” Chairman’s Guide brochure. Many of the answers to the questions brought forth great discussion and served as a good reminder about the rules of the contest.
“We create new leaders. That’s what this contest does,” said Tina Burney, discussion moderator and Department of Georgia Oratorical chairwoman. “Citizenship, duty and responsibility is the underlying thing that we’re trying to get them to understand.”
The following are a few highlights from the test answers and discussion:
Assigned topic card. During the contest, the assigned topic card (there are four) is to be drawn prior to the last contestant’s prepared oration. Conference Chairman David King of the Department of Kentucky advised that about six to seven minutes after the last speaker starts, hand the assigned topic to the first speaker. They have five minutes to prepare.
Contest outcome dispute. Following the contest, if a teacher or parent of one of the contestants disputes the outcome of the contest and demands to see the judges’ scorecards, indicate that the scorecards are the property of The American Legion and policy dictates that they are not to be released to the public. The decision of the judges is final.
Contest disruption. If there is a disruption to the contest when a contestant is speaking, like a fire alarm prompting an evacuation, allow the contestant to start over upon return to the competition.
Missed competition. If a contestant cannot compete in the contest at either the post, district or department level for a specified reason, but can compete the following day, conduct the contest as scheduled. And if a contestant competed they cannot do so again. “We had a student who lived on the Georgia-Tennessee line and wanted to compete and did not win (in Georgia) and wanted to go into Tennessee and we said ‘No, you’ve already competed,’” Burney said.
Number of prepared speeches. In preparing for the Oratorical Contest, the contestants need to prepare five speeches – one prepared oration and four assigned topic speeches. “It’s real important that we tell them that they have to prepare five speeches. It doesn’t matter if they have a canned beginning and then fill in the end on the assigned topic. They have to have five,” Burney said.
Early graduates. Contestants who have graduated early from high school are eligible to compete as long as they are not enrolled in college, university, trade school or other institution of higher learning.
Placement of judges. Judges should not sit together during a contest. Responses given to this is so they don’t collude, look at each other’s notes and so the contestants have to look at different people in the audience. And contestants should not be told who the judges are and where they will be seated.
Copies of speeches. Contestants may have a copy of their prepared oration in the first holding room.
“Some people question whether or not we should change some of the structure. We have been doing it this way for 83 years. And we have been doing it well,” Burney said. “While National Speech and Debate do it one way, while other organizations do it another way, we do our contest in a way that is now a legacy. It is a legacy of something that we are keeping alive.”
Additional tips shared:
Allowing contestants to have cell phones or smartwatches is not advised. An example given of why is that what if a parent or speech coach sends a text to the contestant on the assigned topic that is pulled, giving them advance notice and preparation.
While a sound system is not allowed for contestants to use, do let the kids do a voice check so they know how loud to project.
Timekeeping for the contest is conducted with numbered time cards that are held up on the minute mark. Let them know there isn’t a half-minute warning mark as many expect that.
Encourage contestants to end their speech with “thank you” or some type of closure so the timers know they’re finished, rather than just wander off or stand there while the time is running.
The Prepared Oration
The oration must be on some aspect of the Constitution, with emphasis on a citizen’s duties and obligations to our government. The same subject and oration used in the department contest must be used in the national contest.
Contestants may have a copy of their prepared oration while waiting in the first holding room. They may consult the copy until they exit to begin the contest. The copy will then be surrendered to the contest official monitoring the first holding room.
Quotations must always be indicated as such. Where quotations are more than 10 words in length, the author’s name must be given in the manuscript and cited orally.
It is acceptable to utilize or incorporate short phrases in a foreign language to develop the argument, establish a point, etc. It should be understood that the vast majority of the prepared oration and/or assigned topic must still be delivered in English. Singing is not permitted and will result in immediate disqualification. The contestant may, however, quote a verse(s) of a song(s) provided proper attribution is made.
The assigned topic discourse must not consume less than three (3) minutes or more than five (5) minutes for delivery. The purpose of the assigned topic discourse is to test the speaker's knowledge of the subject, the extent of his or her research, and the ability to discuss the topic as related to the basic principles of government under the Constitution.
The assigned topic shall be drawn by the contest official in full view of the audience immediately before the last speaker begins delivery of his or her prepared oration and will be made known to the audience and each contestant approximately five (5) minutes prior to the time of delivery. The topic will be on some phase of the U.S. Constitution, selected from Articles and Sections as listed under assigned topics for the current year's contest in this brochure.
All contestants at each contest level are required to speak in the English language on the same assigned topic.
Assigned Topics for 2019 Oratorical Contest
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
Rules and Regulations
Eligible participants must be citizens of or lawful permanent residents of the United States. All contestants must be bona fide students herein described as any student under the age of 20 years on the date of the national contest who is presently enrolled in a high school or junior high school (public, parochial, military, private or home school). The curriculum of the school must be considered to be of high school level, commencing with grade 9 and terminating with grade 12. Students must be enrolled in high school or junior high school during the time of participation at any level of The American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest. Contestants must either be legally domiciled within or attend an educational institution within the department that they enter competition. Contestants can enter competition through only one department.
High school students that graduate early during the school year are eligible to compete if they are not enrolled in a college, university, trade school or other institution of higher learning at the time of the department finals contest.
The three finalists of the national contest are ineligible for further participation at any level.
The official in charge of the contest conducts a drawing to determine the order by which contestants will appear. The contest chairman introduces each contestant, then announces the title of the contestant’s prepared oration. The audience must refrain from applause until the judges make a decision.
A raised platform is not mandatory; however, it is strongly recommended. The use of notes, amplification, lectern or speaker’s stand or any manner of prompting is not permitted. Props are not permitted.
Contestants and audience members may not use any form of electronic/digital data gathering, receiving and/or transmitting equipment.
Contestants must deliver their prepared oration in no fewer than eight minutes and no more than 10 minutes. The assigned topic runs no fewer than three minutes and no more than five minutes.
The contest chairman names an official timer who keeps an accurate time record of each contestant. The timer is located on the main floor in full view of the contestants and will begin timing each contestant at the start of the prepared oration. The timer should have a stopwatch and time cards displaying the numbers 8, 9 and 10 for the prepared oration. When eight minutes have gone by, the time warning card with the number 8 is placed in full view of the speaker, followed by 9 and 10 accordingly. The same procedure is used during the assigned topic discourse with cards bearing 3, 4 and 5. The contest chairman will announce the time each contestant uses for the prepared oration and the assigned topic immediately after each contestant speaks in front of the judges.
Until their turn to speak, contestants must remain in a private room where other speakers’ discourses cannot be heard. The contest chairman will appoint an individual to supervise each contestant. As the contestants conclude their prepared orations, they must return to a soundproof waiting room. Speakers who conclude their assigned topic discourse may not associate with contestants who have not finished speaking.
Approximately five minutes before the start of the assigned topic discourse, the first contestant will be informed of the assigned topic drawn. He or she retires to privacy under the direction of an individual appointed by the contest chairman; it’s this individual’s duty to see that the contestant doesn’t consult any text matter or notes with any connection to the subject. Contestants may only reference the actual words of the topic provided on the card drawn.
Each succeeding contestant will be called upon in the order that he or she previously appeared. He or she will also, in turn, be informed of the topic of the assigned topic discourse and shall then be escorted to the same privacy provided for the first contestant.
Contestants must give their prepared oration and the assigned topic discourse to receive the scholarship monies to which they are entitled.
What to wear
Uniforms are not permitted. Appropriate business attire is required for all contestants. Contestants may not wear awards and medals from previous competitions.
The American Legion pays travel and lodging expenses for department winners and their chaperones. A chaperone over 21 years of age must accompany each contestant.
The American Legion does not assume liability for personal injury, property damage or loss sustained by any contestant or chaperone en route to or from the contest; however, The American Legion does carry a nominal group accident insurance policy on contestants accepted into the national competition. The American Legion selects an air carrier for contestants' travel.
The contest chairman will appoint no fewer than three tabulators for the department finals contest. It's their responsibility to review the judges' scorecards to be certain they are fully tabulated and signed before being submitted for final tabulation.
Judges' scorecards for department finals and the national contest will not be divulged to anyone at the site of the contest. All national contest judges' scorecards become property of The American Legion National Headquarters.
Judges are an important part of the oratorical contest. Their qualifications are carefully considered, as their decisions are final and must be reached without bias. Impartial judging is the key to fairness and success of the program, which selects a national champion.
All department finals and the national contest have five judges, who are not allowed to receive any publicity before the event. During the contest, judges sit in different locations, and each renders his or her final decision without any sort of consultation.
Judges are advised to downgrade contestants who fail to emphasize the prepared oration and the assigned topic discourse on a citizen’s duties and obligations to our government. Judges can downgrade a contestant up to 10 points for failure to speak about the Constitution. The contest chairman will announce any time violations for contestants. A penalty of one point for each minute, or fraction thereof, shall be assessed toward the contestant’s total score.
Following the last assigned topic discourse, the judges, timekeepers, tabulators and contest chairman may proceed to a private room for final review and tabulation.
Television and radio
Live television and radio broadcasts are permitted in all contests, as well as filming, taping or other types of media for later showing, provided:
1. Lighting and other site conditions are the same for all contestants.
2. Filming or broadcasts in no way distract the contestants or interfere with the pre-announced scheduled time of the contest.
3. The normal speaking voice of the contestant is not interfered with or amplified within the auditorium.
4. The American Legion is in no way financially obligated without prior approval.