Elkhorn oratorical team seeks students who want to learn about America through public speaking
ELKHORN—Confidence, thinking on your feet and public speaking skills are perks of joining an oratorical team, Leo Schneider said, and he wants more students to join.
Schneider, his comrades and Elkhorn Area High school staff are encouraging students to participate in the speech contests.
American Legion Oratorical contests started in 1938 to help high school students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution, grasp changes in U.S. laws and be aware of the responsibilities, privileges and rights of American citizens.
An American Legion post sponsors each oratorical team.
Anna Hartlaub, 19, joined the American Legion Post 95 Delavan team at age 15. Her brother did it before her. She said she developed critical thinking skills, deepened her understanding of the U.S. Constitution and became better at public speaking.
She originally was “terrified” of speaking in public. She went to regionals all three years she participated and placed second in state once.
“It was something I felt excited talking about, and it developed my speaking skills a lot … It was one of the hardest things I did in high school, and it was well worth it,” she said.
Orators make speeches about an aspect of the Constitution with an emphasis on citizen obligations and duties.
The first speech in the contest is eight to 10 minutes. Contestants then give a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic. Each speech must be memorized. Notes are not allowed.
Schneider, coordinator for American Legion Post 45 in Elkhorn, and Bill Sigmund, post commander for the Delavan post, watched Hartlaub grow.
She calls them her cheerleaders.
“We are promoting Americanism,” Schneider said. “We the people of this country do not want uneducated citizens to continue making major decisions.”
No students have signed up at the Delavan and Elkhorn post. All three were unsure about the other eight posts in the county.
“They bring up the Constitution, and a lot of people don't know about the Constitution until they get into this oratorical contest,” Sigmund said.
High school students under age 20 are eligible.
Competitions go from local, regional, county and state to national.
According to the American Legion website:
Each regional participant automatically receives a $600 scholarship. The winner receives a $1,000 scholarship.
In state, first place is $2,000, second is $1,500 and third is $1,000.
The national finalist wins $18,000, second gets $16,000 and third gets $14,000.
More than $138,000 in scholarships are awarded each year and can be used at any U.S. college or university.