The top-three finishers from this year's Oratorical Contest, from left: Brook Conner (third place), Victoria Black (first) and Elizabeth Blessing (second). James V. Carroll

73rd Oratorical champion crowned

Once again, the level of competition ranked high for the 2010 American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program - "A Constitutional Speech Contest." The program got underway in Indianapolis this past Saturday with 53 contestants representing each state and ended Sunday with its 73rd champion - Tori Beth Black, a home-schooled high school junior from Iva, S.C.

By finishing in first-place, Black won an $18,000 college scholarship for her award-winning oration titled, "A Rising Sun." The other two finalists who competed alongside Black were Elizabeth Blessing, a home-schooled student from Auburn, Ala.; and Brooke Conner, from Bridport, Vt. Blessing finished second, earning a $16,000 college scholarship for her oration "Pass It On," while Conner placed third, earning a $14,000 scholarship for her oration "Putting Together the Constitutional Puzzle."

All 53 Oratorical competitors took part in the quarterfinals Saturday at the IUPUI University Place Conference Center in Indianapolis, where they were separated in groups of up to six students. Each group was assigned to a room within the conference center to present their rehearsed eight- to 10-minute oration on an aspect of the U.S. Constitution in front of five judges and many family members. Preceding the orations, the competitors gave a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic discourse, which is a phase of the Constitution selected from Articles and Sections. The assigned topic was drawn by the contest official and was made known to the audience and each contestant five minutes prior to the time of delivery. Once all 53 contestants delivered the two speeches, the judges' votes were tallied and nine students advanced to the semifinal rounds, where they once again presented their oration and an assigned topic discourse.

Besides Black, Blessing and Conner, the other six semifinalist included Derek Schulze of Warrenton, Mo.; Kelsey Marsolek of Independence, Wis.; Mitchell Murdock of Kingston, Wash.; Madison Kircher of Queensbury, N.Y.; Aleksandr Fedyszyn of Wheeling, West Va.; and Christina Sauer of Corydon, Ind. (representing Kentucky).

After the semifinals were completed Saturday afternoon, the judges' votes were once again tallied to narrow down the nine semifinalists to three, which allowed Black, Blessing and Conner to take the stage in the conference center's auditorium Sunday at 10 a.m. for the championship finals.

Sunday's supportive audience included a new set of eight judges, numerous volunteer Legionnaires from across the country, family and friends of the finalists, as well as many of the other 50 contestants and their family members.

The three finalists proudly and successfully presented their oration, along with the assigned topic discourse which was on Article 5 of the Constitution. Black, Blessing and Conner's oration's spoke on what the Oratorical competition stands for, which is for young adults to better understand the Constitution and the importance of it. A sound example of this was voiced in Black's speech as she stated, "The people of the United States of America know that a Constitution exists - some even express pride in it, but many do not know why they follow it, or even understand its purpose."

In the end, all 53 Oratorical contestants walked away with something, as everyone who participated in the quarterfinals received a $1,500 scholarship, and those who advanced on to semifinals received an additional $1,500.

Check back at Tuesday to watch an interview with this year's winner, Tori Beth Black.