Photo by James V. Carroll

Legion, National Forensic League team up

With nearly 160 successful years of speech and debate competitions between them, The American Legion Oratorical Contest and the National Forensic League (NFL) have combined their expertise and formed a lasting relationship that will provide additional opportunities for students interested in forensic arts.

Each year the NFL holds competitions and tournaments in debate, public speaking and interpretation that gives more than 112,000 high school students representing 2,800 schools across the United States a voice. Because of the NFL's numerous high school contacts and highly respectable speech and debate activities, the Legion felt forming a relationship with the NFL was a viable way for the Oratorical Contest to gain exposure among teachers and students.

"This is the biggest development in my 17 years as chair of the Oratorical Commission in Missouri," said Duane Benton, a U.S. circuit judge for seven states in the Midwest. "Although NFL students have entered The American Legion's speech contest for years, the formal relationship will take it one notch further and create additional communication between NFL high school speech coaches and Legionnaires who run a local Oratorical Contest."

Per the agreement between the Legion and NFL, American Legion department Oratorical chairmen will work closely with the NFL's 106 district representatives in order to encourage students to participate in the Oratorical Contest. More importantly, the top three finishers in the National Oratorical Contest will earn a berth in "Original Oration" - a category featured in the NFL's National Speech and Debate Tournament in Dallas, June 13-18, 2011. There, the champions will present a 10-minute speech on a topic of their choice and compete for more than $200,000 in college scholarships.

"Both organizations have a long history of providing wonderful, profound educational opportunities for young people," said Adam Jacobi, education and programs coordinator for the NFL. "There are all kinds of synergies in what both organization's find central to teaching kids, such as issues surrounding American citizenship and legislation. So when the relationship was proposed, we questioned why we haven't been doing this all along since both programs are complementary and the cross pollination between the NFL and The American Legion is going to strengthen kids' communication."

Another advantage with the relationship involves the NFL's point system, also known as degrees of Merit. To become an NFL member, a student must first earn 25 points through an NFL high school speech or debate competition. As points accumulate, so do the degrees of Merit. One way students can earn double points is by participating in both the Oratorical and NFL contest.

"I have judged the NFL national finals in ‘Original Oratory,' as well as the Legion Oratorical finals, and they are both exceptional contests," Benton said. "This is a win-win situation for the Legion and the NFL."