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American Legion hosts sixth annual oratorical contest

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Ella Henslee and Avery Dickerson return to the stage for the awards ceremony. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – American Legion Post 99 hosted its sixth annual Oratorical Contest at Lone Peak High School on Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. Four students competed in the event, which offered $500 cash for first place, $300 for second place and $200 for third place, along with advancement to the district competition for the first-place winner. 

Each participant was asked to prepare a speech at least eight minutes in length and no longer than 10 minutes. Points were deducted for violating time constraints. The topic had to address some aspect of the U.S. Constitution showcasing each individual’s interpretation of the document. 

The students not only faced the daunting task of speaking to an audience for eight minutes, but they were not allowed notes onstage, the use of a podium or microphone, and were being scored by three judges.

“The fact that they got up there and did what they did is impressive enough,” said Tony Coppola, the master of ceremonies for the event. “I don’t think anybody in that room, besides the four kids on the stage, could have done what they did. I’m definitely proud of their grit and their resiliency and then just the dedication to it. This was all voluntary.”

The four participants were all sophomores, though any student in high school is welcome to participate. Coppola explained that although this is a required assignment in 10th grade U.S. Government, participation in the competition portion is voluntary. 

The American Legion Oratorical Contest has been a tradition since 1938 with the goal of developing a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the U.S. Constitution among high school students. Participation in the contest is intended to teach leadership qualities, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of American citizenship.

At the Jan. 26 competition, each Lone Peak High School student presented a talk on their chosen topic and applause was held until the award ceremony. Coppola presented the final awards after a brief break where judges collaborated with tabulators to finalize their score sheets. 

In first place was Ella Henslee for her speech on Polarization in the American Public. Second place went to Avery Dickerson for her speech on Liberty in the Second Amendment. Third place went to Max Romney for his speech on the American Vote. In fourth place was Jessie Bough for her speech on the Political Influence of Rural States and Farmers.

As well as receiving a $500 cash prize, Henslee will also have the opportunity to compete at the district competition in Bozeman on Feb. 27. She will present the same speech she gave at the Jan. 26 contest and is expected to have four other speeches prepared for the assigned topic section of the contest. 

Coppola expressed pride in all four students for choosing to participate and said, “I think they all did very well. It was a close competition as far as the scorecards went.”

He wrapped up the evening, addressing the assembled parents and members of the American Legion with congratulations for all students and some powerful food for thought.

“America’s future rests on the success of today’s youth.”

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