Eligible participants must be citizens of or lawful permanent residents of the United States. All contestants must be bona fide students herein described as any student under the age of 20 years on the date of the national contest who is presently enrolled in a high school or junior high school (public, parochial, military, private or home school). The curriculum of the school must be considered to be of high school level, commencing with grade 9 and terminating with grade 12. Students must be enrolled in high school or junior high school during the time of participation at any level of The American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest. Contestants must either be legally domiciled within or attend an educational institution within the department that they enter competition. Contestants can enter competition through only one department.
High school students that graduate early during the school year are eligible to compete if they are not enrolled in a college, university, trade school or other institution of higher learning at the time of the department finals contest.
The three finalists of the national contest are ineligible for further participation at any level.
The official in charge of the contest conducts a drawing to determine the order by which contestants will appear. The contest chairman introduces each contestant, then announces the title of the contestant’s prepared oration. The audience must refrain from applause until the judges make a decision.
A raised platform is not mandatory; however, it is strongly recommended. The use of notes, amplification, lectern or speaker’s stand or any manner of prompting is not permitted. Props are not permitted.
Contestants and audience members may not use any form of electronic/digital data gathering, receiving and/or transmitting equipment.
Contestants must deliver their prepared oration in no fewer than eight minutes and no more than 10 minutes. The assigned topic runs no fewer than three minutes and no more than five minutes.
The contest chairman names an official timer who keeps an accurate time record of each contestant. The timer is located on the main floor in full view of the contestants and will begin timing each contestant at the start of the prepared oration. The timer should have a stopwatch and time cards displaying the numbers 8, 9 and 10 for the prepared oration. When eight minutes have gone by, the time warning card with the number 8 is placed in full view of the speaker, followed by 9 and 10 accordingly. The same procedure is used during the assigned topic discourse with cards bearing 3, 4 and 5. The contest chairman will announce the time each contestant uses for the prepared oration and the assigned topic immediately after each contestant speaks in front of the judges.
Until their turn to speak, contestants must remain in a private room where other speakers’ discourses cannot be heard. The contest chairman will appoint an individual to supervise each contestant. As the contestants conclude their prepared orations, they must return to a soundproof waiting room. Speakers who conclude their assigned topic discourse may not associate with contestants who have not finished speaking.
Approximately five minutes before the start of the assigned topic discourse, the first contestant will be informed of the assigned topic drawn. He or she retires to privacy under the direction of an individual appointed by the contest chairman; it’s this individual’s duty to see that the contestant doesn’t consult any text matter or notes with any connection to the subject. Contestants may only reference the actual words of the topic provided on the card drawn.
Each succeeding contestant will be called upon in the order that he or she previously appeared. He or she will also, in turn, be informed of the topic of the assigned topic discourse and shall then be escorted to the same privacy provided for the first contestant.
Contestants must give their prepared oration and the assigned topic discourse to receive the scholarship monies to which they are entitled.
What to wear
Uniforms are not permitted. Appropriate business attire is required for all contestants. Contestants may not wear awards and medals from previous competitions.
The American Legion pays travel and lodging expenses for department winners and their chaperones. A chaperone over 21 years of age must accompany each contestant.
The American Legion does not assume liability for personal injury, property damage or loss sustained by any contestant or chaperone en route to or from the contest; however, The American Legion does carry a nominal group accident insurance policy on contestants accepted into the national competition. The American Legion selects an air carrier for contestants' travel.
The contest chairman will appoint no fewer than three tabulators for the department finals contest. It's their responsibility to review the judges' scorecards to be certain they are fully tabulated and signed before being submitted for final tabulation.
Judges' scorecards for department finals and the national contest will not be divulged to anyone at the site of the contest. All national contest judges' scorecards become property of The American Legion National Headquarters.
Judges are an important part of the oratorical contest. Their qualifications are carefully considered, as their decisions are final and must be reached without bias. Impartial judging is the key to fairness and success of the program, which selects a national champion.
All department finals and the national contest have five judges, who are not allowed to receive any publicity before the event. During the contest, judges sit in different locations, and each renders his or her final decision without any sort of consultation.
Judges are advised to downgrade contestants who fail to emphasize the prepared oration and the assigned topic discourse on a citizen’s duties and obligations to our government. Judges can downgrade a contestant up to 10 points for failure to speak about the Constitution. The contest chairman will announce any time violations for contestants. A penalty of one point for each minute, or fraction thereof, shall be assessed toward the contestant’s total score.
Following the last assigned topic discourse, the judges, timekeepers, tabulators and contest chairman may proceed to a private room for final review and tabulation.
Television and radio
Live television and radio broadcasts are permitted in all contests, as well as filming, taping or other types of media for later showing, provided:
1. Lighting and other site conditions are the same for all contestants.
2. Filming or broadcasts in no way distract the contestants or interfere with the pre-announced scheduled time of the contest.
3. The normal speaking voice of the contestant is not interfered with or amplified within the auditorium.
4. The American Legion is in no way financially obligated without prior approval.