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Students looking toward college have an opportunity to earn scholarships, thanks to the American Legion.

The local five posts invite Madison County high school students to compete in the 83rd annual American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program Jan. 25 at Madison City Hall, 100 Hughes Road in Madison. The competition will begin at 10 a.m. with contestants asked to arrive at 9:30.

Contestants will present an eight to 10-minute speech on a portion of the Constitution of the United States, “emphasizing the duties and obligations of a citizen to the United States government,” according to the American Legion. Contestants will also be assigned a constitutional subject to address in a three to five-minute speech.

“It is a terrific opportunity for high school students to earn some pretty good scholarship dollars,” Tom McKinney, Madison County oratorical chairman, said. “Of course, the higher they advance, the better the award.”

Each contestant will be graded on speaking ability and how well they made their point. The time limit is enforced and points will be deducted for going over or under the time requirements. And possibly the most important part – no notes allowed.

“It is just them and the audience,” McKinney said.

Contestants will have advance notice of the potential topics of the second portion but will not learn which topic they will address until the competition. The list of potential contest topics can be found in the official rules at www.legion.org/oratorical.

“It requires some work on the student’s part, they have to be ready to speak off the cuff, so to speak,” McKinney said. “If they can relate it to everyday life, all the better.”

The winner of the local competition will be awarded $300 and advance to the district level, with monetary awards presented at each level of competition for the first three places. The district winner will then compete at the state level. The state winner will receive a $2,500 scholarship and will advance to the national finals in Indianapolis in April.

The state winner will also receive scholarship offers from the University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of North Alabama, McKinney said.

“It really is a good program … they improve their speaking skills which helps them regardless if they win or not. But if they happen to win, they pick up some good scholarship dollars to help them with their education.”

Each state winner who competes in the first round of the national contest will receive a $2,000 scholarship. Participants in the second round who do not advance to the final round will also receive an additional $1,500 scholarship. The top three national winners will receive college scholarships of $20,000, $17,000 and $15,000. Travel and lodging expenses of state winners at the national contest will be paid for by the American Legion.

“I am pleased and gratified each year that we have young people who, if you look at the timing, took a big chunk of their Christmas holidays to work on a speech. … The ones who do it, I can be nothing but proud of,” McKinney said.

For more information, email McKinney at mckinn911@aol.com.

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