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Strasburg teen heads to national American Legion contest

Jordan DiPaolo, 18, of Strasburg works on his physics lessons inside his home in Strasburg. The home-schooled student is going to the national level American Legion Oratorical Contest. He’s the first ever from Strasburg post 77 to make it to the national level. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor

Jordan DiPaol of Strasburg wasn't too certain if he wanted to sign up to give speeches on the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

He had enough going on with home school, the American Legion's junior shooters program and preparations to enter the Naval Academy this June.

Frank Hillyard, commander of the American Legion Strasburg Post 77, asked him to be this year's American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship contestant.

DiPaola said, "We got to talking, and I wasn't really sure if I wanted to do it."

So he decided to see where God would take him. Being the only competitor from Strasburg, he won his post immediately.

After spending time with retired Army chaplain William Erbach as his coach, DiPaola won district in January.

He remembered thinking, "Oh wow, I'm pretty good at this."

Then he won the region contest in February and state in March. This month, he's heading to the 76th national competition in Indianapolis. There will be 52 other students competing, according to the website, www.legion.org. In addition to the 50 state competitors, there is a contestant from the District of Columbia and two through the American Legion Department of France.

"It was quite a surprise to go that far," DiPaola said.

According to Hillyard, DiPaola, 18, is only the second person from the district ever to make it to state.

"There's 222 posts in the state of Virginia," Hillyard said. "So he competed against 17 districts, and there's three regions. So he basically is the best of the 222 posts of submitted people."

At each level of the competition, DiPaola gives an eight to 10-minute speech and one of four prepared smaller speeches. After he learns which of the four he'll get, he has five minutes to prepare his speech.

"They're based on four different pieces of the Constitution," he said. "What we did is we prepared a speech for each one, and then I had my notes."

His long speech is on the Third Amendment, which he said refers to no quartering of homes.

"It's somewhat overlooked today," he said. Americans no longer have to worry about the government taking away their homes and giving them to soldiers.

"It gives us a very good base for property rights," DiPaola said.

His interest in taking part in the oratorical competition was sparked by the government class he was taking when Hillyard asked him to compete. DiPaola was studying the Bill of Rights.

He remembered Hillyard asking him to look through the Constitution and decide what he might want to talk about.

"And [the Third Amendment] just seemed pretty obscure," DiPaola said. "It's an interesting thing that they put in there. I'd never even think about soldiers on my doorstep trying to get into my home."

"The point really is that at the time of the writing of our Constitution, this was a really big deal," DiPaola said. He said America's founding fathers wanted to "assure the people that they could stand behind the government and not have to worry about a repeat with what they had just gone through with Great Britain."

Hillyard said the contest is open to all high school students, ninth grade to 12th grade, "and they can compete every year, even if they win state."

If DiPaola places in the top three at the national competition, he will be ineligible to compete again, Hillyard said.

First place wins $16,000, second wins $14,000 and third wins $12,000, he said.

DiPaola has been winning prizes at every level, Hillyard said. Every post is different, but he said Strasburg awarded DiPaola $500. At state he won $1,500, but he gets another $1,500 just for showing up at the national competition, Hillyard said.

The winner of the contest also gets a plaque, and "Of course they'll get the recognition," Hillyard said.

DiPaola plans to report to the Naval Academy on June 23 for Induction Day.

"I'd like to be an aviator, preferably a fighter pilot. I saw 'Top Gun' too many times," DiPaola said.

He expects his experience with the American Legion to help him at school and later in life when he plans to pursue a career in politics.

Hillyard said speaking about the country's most important documents is something to admire.

"To make it even more difficult is you're presenting this stuff to veterans," he said. "He's done extremely well, and he'll be on his way up there."


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