From the Chair
In September, I attended the Americanism Conference in Indianapolis. Here we are above in our group photo. Dave King, Department of Kentucky, was the Conference Chairman. A resolution proposed by the Department of Illinois to reduce the time for the Prepared Oration to 6 to 8 minutes instead of the 8 to 10 it currently is. Additionally, the resolution asked that the number of Assigned Topics be reduced to two instead of the four it is now. Their argument was that students are involved in many sports and activities outside of school and doing this much preparation was arduous.
All Departments agreed that there was no need to reduce the time for the Prepared Oration as often, students could easily go over the 10 minute limit.
There was some discussion about reducing the number of Assigned Topics to two. This would mean that students only have to prepare 3 speeches to be competitive—the Prepared Oration and two Assigned Topics. There was quite a bit of support to reduce the number of Assigned Topics but it would have to be introduced as a separate resolution and likely will be introduced next year.
Most people felt that making the contest easier, was de facto dumbing it down. Since the National awards were just increased significantly and the number of students who can compete in the semi-finals, most people thought this was not the time to be making the contest easier.
Some believe that homeschooled students have an unfair advantage because they don’t have to participate in all the testing and be in class like other students. They argued that reducing the Assigned Topics would go a long way to giving regular school students some reprieve.
The contest is in its 84th year and while participation is lower than other programs, like Boys State and baseball, we don’t want to dilute the importance of it.
Another topic that was discussed was the importance of following the script and running a contest that is very similar, if not identical, to the National contest. Florida makes me proud as our manual and our contests are run exactly like the nationals. We were told to follow the script precisely and if you are going to do any adlibbing, do it before you start the script.
This past year, I was asked to be the Moderator at a Quarter Finals contest. I was psyched. No joke. But, the hotel was getting renovated and the carpets were all messed up. Many chairs were broken or unsteady. My assigned timekeepers and one escort did not show up. I was busy taping down the carpet so no one would trip. I felt pretty sure I knew the script since FL follows it anyway. The contest commences and one judge they assigned me is mentioned in the next paragraph. I asked her to remove her cap and she refused. THAT was not covered in the script. I was a little rattled by it but thought, okay, just keep on. Everything was going well and then we got to the Assigned Topic portion and my script had the Assigned Topic written out in Roman Numerals. I blanked out. I wasn’t even sure I could see it correctly. The Xs and Vs seemed to run together. I didn’t want to read it wrong so I paused and fortunately, the timekeeper read it out for me! Our FL script has it written out in words but lesson learned!
Now the issue was raised that at the Nationals, an American Legion member was asked to be a judge as there was a shortage of judges. She had her cap on and refused to take it off because it would mess up her hair. Dave King said that is NOT to happen again and reminded us that it’s best to not have Legionnaires as a judge except in extenuating circumstances. I had politely asked her to remove it, but when she refused, I did not know how to handle it without creating a scene. At our contests, I choose judges and get to brief them beforehand so that would never come up. This led to further discussion about the national contest.
At Nationals, we had one person do all the briefing of the judges and he ended up giving some erroneous information to them. The fix for this situation is that each moderator will get to meet with their timekeepers and escorts and judges ahead of time, instead of having them briefed by someone else. The hotel where the contest is held is huge and it’s very busy. I had been assigned an escort who was using a walker and was very slow and could no way get the students to the holding room and back on time. It was pretty chaotic. But, we were coming back after missing a year or two from Covid and we have a new Program Director there and this was her first time organizing a contest. Thankfully, you can count on veterans to step up though and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
On a more local level, every department says it’s difficult to reach the students to increase participation. Using social media can help drive up interest. But in the end, it often comes down to having a chairman who gets to know a few teachers and build on that. When we have chairmen who have been involved for a year or more, it makes it easier to forge those connections. While change can be good and invigorating, there is something comforting about having the same chairmen. It takes a few years to build solid rapport with some teachers.
One way to demonstrate to teachers what the contest is about, is to have teachers be your judges. Once they see a contest in person, they have a greater sense of which students might be up for the challenge. I try to get at least one judge who uses social media and can tweet about the contest to their followers. Try to get former contestants from your area to tweet or make a Tik Tok video. Or post on Instagram.
One aspect I have struggled with is focusing on the schools that have speech and debate teams. It’s easier to get students from those schools, but the students who may really need scholarship money often come from schools that have no speech and debate team. It’s important not to neglect those schools.
Stress that participation is a great learning experience, that it doesn’t matter if you win or not. I think inviting teachers from these schools to be a judge, will go a long way towards promoting the contest at their schools.
One other issue that came up at the conference was….who can be an Oratorical Chairman? It turns out, that Alaska has had a lady be the chairman for many years but she was not a Legionnaire. She was a member of the Auxiliary. I believe the Department of GA has a Son’s of the American Legion be the Department Chairman for many years. He’s a retired federal judge. The general consensus was that if you have a person willing to act as a chairman, then take advantage of whatever they will do, provided they abide by the rules and regulations and that they coordinate with the other chairman and Program Director frequently.
Thanks to everyone for all that you are doing to make the program successful. I think we have some students returning this year who competed last year and will make for a very good Department contest. Feel free to text or email with any questions. If you need a conversation, text me to arrange it.