American Legion hosts contest

The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Henry-Vance American Legion’s 9th District hosts its annual Oratorical Scholarship Program in Elkins Sunday. Shown from left are Charles Church, District 9 oratorical chairman; Nicholas County High School freshman Soren Tyree; Barbara Burdette, 9th District commander and vice chairperson of department membership; Elkins High School senior Hayden Long; and Charles Ranew, commander of American Legion Post 29.

ELKINS –While just two students took part in Sunday’s Oratorical Scholarship Program presented by the American Legion, officials said they were impressed with the quality of the speeches.

First place in the contest was awarded to Elkins High School senior Hayden Long, and second place went to Soren Tyree, a freshman at Nicholas County High School. The Scholarship Program was open to students in ninth through 12th grades in the American Legion’s 9th District, which includes Randolph, Tucker, Webster, Pocahontas, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties and part of Barbour County.

The speech program focuses on the U.S. Constitution, allowing students to prepare an original 8- to 10-minute speech, and then each contestant also must give a 3- to 5-minute speech on an assigned topic relating to a Constitutional Amendment.

Barbara Burdette, of Greenbrier County, 9th District commander and vice chairperson of department membership, said the competition is challenging. However, it’s worth the time, research and effort because of experience the students gain and the scholarship funds they can win.

“There is work involved in it,” Burdette said. “The whole learning process is a wonderful experience for them.”

Burdette said students have a variety of American Legion representatives throughout the district who offer assistance to students interested in preparing for the contest, starting each September. She added the program’s focus on the Constitution is an important subject for today’s society, and she always is eager to hear what young people have to say based on their research.

“There’s no losers in this contest,” she said. “The people who sit here (in the audience) are in awe … to know young people who are grasping the importance of our Constitution. … There are many adults who don’t.”

Long’s first-place award earned a $200 prize, a medal and the opportunity to move on to the sectional oratorical contest, which is scheduled next month in Romney. Long said he competed in last year’s contest, so he was a little more confident this year. He was cheered on Sunday by his mother and stepfather, Jodie and Wayne Hart; and his aunt, Jayme Gongola. Long said he heard about the contest through a family friend who helped him prepare for the competition.

Long, who also is a member of the EHS swim team, said he plans to attend college and possibly study engineering.

Meanwhile, Tyree was cheered on Sunday by her parents, Tammy and James Tyree, of Birch River. She said she heard about the program from Dan Kuhn, adjutant for American Legion Post No. 131 in Summersville, and she probably will participate again. Her second-place award includes $150 and a medal.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the National High School Oratorical Scholarship Program, also known as “A Constitutional Speech Contest.”

Since its inception, the contest has awarded “well over $3 million in scholarships to the participants at the national level of competition. It currently awards $138,000 annually to department winners competing at the national level. Many thousands of dollars in scholarships have been awarded at post, district and state levels,” according to contest information provided by the American Legion. “The contest was developed primarily to instill a better knowledge and appreciation of the Constitution of the United States to high school students.”

The first-place winner at the national level is awarded $18,000 in scholarship funds, and second- and third-place awards are $16,000 and $14,000 respectively. Burdette noted a student from Wheeling earned third place at the national level last year. More information is available at www.wvlegion.org or by calling 304-343-7591.