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CCPS students get real-time practice with Constitution, public speaking in contest: ‘It was a little scary’

Adrian Gamboa, left, post commander of Carroll Post No. 31, announces the results of their local American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program competition on Jan. 16. The four competitors, all from Winters Mill High School, include, from left, Eli Hansbrough, Samantha Coale, Nathan Martin and Nick Henderson.
Adrian Gamboa, left, post commander of Carroll Post No. 31, announces the results of their local American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program competition on Jan. 16. The four competitors, all from Winters Mill High School, include, from left, Eli Hansbrough, Samantha Coale, Nathan Martin and Nick Henderson. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

The last time the U.S. Constitution was amended, it happened only after a graduate student’s research paper began a movement to ratify a proposal brought forward by James Madison some two centuries earlier.

Who knew?

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Well, Nathan Martin knew. The Winters Mill High School senior told the story of the 27th Amendment after he and his three competitors were given that somewhat obscure amendment as their assigned topic during the annual American Legion Oratorical Contest.

Martin’s performance in speaking about the 27th Amendment and his prepared speech “We The People,” helped him win the local competition at Post 31 in Westminster on Jan. 16 to qualify for the county championship, to be held Saturday afternoon, Feb. 1, at Sykesville Memorial Post 223.

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“Everybody thinks it’s an old-person club with people sitting around drinking cheap beer and telling war stories,” Carroll Post 31 Adjutant Jim Beckman said. “It’s a lot more than that.”

He will go up against Benjamin Swan of Manchester Valley High, winner at Post 200 in Hampstead, and David Kneebone of Urbana High, the winner at Gold Star Post 191 in Mount Airy. The county winner will move on to the Western Maryland District competition, whose winner advances to the state championship. From there, it’s on to the national event, April 17-19 in Indianapolis.

Martin, Swan and Kneebone weren’t the only winners, said Jim Beckman, adjutant at the Westminster post.

“Everybody’s a winner that stands up here in front of an audience and talks,” he said, noting how most people fear public speaking. “We have no losers. This is our future right here. Everyone should be super proud.”

Competitors, all from Winters Mill High School, from left, Eli Hansbrough, Samantha Coale, Nathan Martin and Nick Henderson. are introduced at the conclusion of Carroll Post No. 31's local American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program competition on Jan. 16.
Competitors, all from Winters Mill High School, from left, Eli Hansbrough, Samantha Coale, Nathan Martin and Nick Henderson. are introduced at the conclusion of Carroll Post No. 31's local American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program competition on Jan. 16. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Martin conceded it was a bit nerve-wracking.

“It was a little scary. Before this I had practiced it a lot, memorized it, but I’d only really said it to my parents,” he said. “After they called my name, as I was walking up, I could feel my heart pounding. I was able to take a deep breath and get it all in."

All three of Martin’s competitors in Westminster also attend Winters Mill. Senior Samantha Coale, a Junior ROTC battalion commander, finished second, senior Eli Hansbrough was third and sophomore Nick Henderson fourth.

The American Legion Oratorical Contest began in 1938. It exists to “develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students," according to the Legion website, as well as to help young people gain the ability to think and speak clearly. Vice President Mike Pence is a former contestant.

Five judges rate each contestant on a prepared oration that is supposed to last 8 to 10 minutes and on an assigned topic speech of 3 to 5 minutes on one of the Constitution amendments that is chosen from four predetermined possibilities. The judges consider originality, skill in selecting examples or analogies, logic and comprehensive knowledge of subject matter, as well as speaking skills, including voice and diction, language use and body language such as eye contact, posture and gestures.

Looking at ease, enunciating clearly and using his arms to help illustrate his points during his prepared oration, Martin ran through why the first three words of the Constitution — “We The People" — are so important and why they mean so much to him, giving personal examples from elementary, middle and high school.

After each contestant’s prepared speech, the four learned which assigned topic had been randomly chosen and given five minutes to refine what they wanted to say about it.

As amendments go, the 27th Amendment is not exactly held in the type of reverence as some of the others and it doesn’t come up as often as, say, the 1st, 2nd or 5th amendments. It reads: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

The topic didn’t take Martin off his game. He was ready for it. In fact, he was ready for anything that could’ve come his way.

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“I had all of that ahead of time — I had gone through all of them," he said.

Martin told the audience about University of Texas sophomore Gregory Watson, who wrote a paper in 1982 about how, technically, the proposed amendment from 1789 preventing Congress from voting itself a pay raise could still be ratified, given that the Constitution places no time limit for states to consider possible amendments.

He received a C on the paper, his professor unconvinced that he had made the case. Watson then went on a mission to get the amendment ratified and prove his professor wrong. It was ratified in 1992.

Once the Jan. 16 Post competition was complete, Beckman encouraged each of the contestants to “breathe. It’s over.”

Martin, a captain on the Winters Mill golf team who hopes to attend the University of Maryland and plans to major in computer engineering, learned that he won as the four competitors stood in the front of the American Legion hall and Post Commander Adrian Gamboa read off the results.

Winters Mill senior Nathan Martin, center, winner the American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program local competition held at Carroll Post No. 31, pictured with adjutant Jim Beckman, left, and post commander Adrian Gamboa on Jan. 16.
Winters Mill senior Nathan Martin, center, winner the American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program local competition held at Carroll Post No. 31, pictured with adjutant Jim Beckman, left, and post commander Adrian Gamboa on Jan. 16. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Gamboa and Beckman later presented an oversized check for $300 to Martin. There is a monetary value for those who do well at each round of the competition, culminating with the national champion earning a $20,000 scholarship.

Gamboa praised each of the competitors for their knowledge of the Constitution and their willingness to deliver speeches in front of a crowd.

“I commend each of you,” Gamboa said. “There’s only one way to learn public speaking, and that’s to do it over and over again.”

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