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New Legion oratorical contest seeks participants

Farmington High School teacher Jason Kohlbeck isn't a speech coach. But that's not stopping him from organizing an oratorical contest for students this year.

Kohlbeck is a member of the Farmington American Legion. He's an adjutant for Post 189, which means he's got a few extra things he's working on for the Legion. He's the guy who is working to build up membership, and he's the guy who is responsible for organizing many of the post's programs for students.

Well, not too long ago, Rick Rottman of the Cannon Falls American Legion came to visit. Rottman and Kohlbeck got to talking about youth programs. Before long, Rottman convinced Kohlbeck to look into doing the Legion-sponsored oratorical contest this fall.

Kohlbeck teaches family and consumer sciences, but he doesn't spend much time on public speaking. That's why he took up the idea with FHS colleague Rick Halley, who coaches the FHS speech team.

It turned out Halley was familiar with the Legion's oratorical contest -- he'd participated in it several times as a teen.

So Halley and Kohlbeck have started to plan this contest.

The Minnesota Department of the American Legion sets up the parameters for each year's contest. Every year, organizers select four topics from within the U.S. Constitution. This year they've selected the Eighth Amendment: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." But the Tenth Amendment -- "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." -- is also one of the topics.

Students can choose to speak on any of the four topics identified in the contest rules. They then have to prepare a speech of not less than three minutes, but not more than five minutes in duration.

"The purpose is to test the speaker's knowledge of the subject," Kohlbeck said. "The judges can measure the extent of the research and their ability to hold a conversation on the subject."

Students will compete for cash prizes. The first place winner will advance to district competition in late November or early December. Farmington is part of the Third District, which goes as far southwest as North Mankato, and as far northeast as Mahtomedi.

Not every community with an American Legion holds an oratorical contest, though. The one being planned by Kohlbeck is the first in the 90 years of the Farmington American Legion's history.

Kohlbeck hopes establishing an oratorical contest at FHS will help to bring attention to some of the programs the American Legion has available for teenagers, and for their families.

"Our numbers have dropped off for the number of people applying for scholarships, so we thought we would give it a shot. (Rick Rottman) gave me the information and I kind if ran with it," Kohlbeck said.

The contest is open to high school boys and girls. The contest itself will be held on Monday, Oct. 25. Students who may be interested in participating are encouraged to see Kohlbeck for more information.

Kohlbeck doesn't expect a lot of students to participate this first time around, but it doesn't hurt to hop for more.

"Three, possibly five would be great. If we get five for our first year, that's a good start," he said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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