By Jeanne Sager
ROSCOE December 23, 2003 Joe Meola would have been proud.
The longtime Roscoe resident and patriotic veteran passed away this year.
But the children of the Roscoe school and his fellow Legionnaires carried on in his footsteps Wednesday morning with the annual oratorical contest.
Two students screwed up the courage to climb the stairs in the auditorium and share their feelings about the Constitution of the United States.
It was a familiar scene to those who followed Meolas involvement in American Legion Post #315.
The group dedicates itself not only to veterans affairs but to helping the youth, running softball leagues and sponsoring kids for scholarships.
But according to Legionnaire Gene Smith, the oratorical contest was all Joe.
It was the only one held in the entire county, and it was a source of pride for the veteran to hear students give their heartfelt impressions about their country.
He loved to do things for kids, Smith said.
We all miss him, added Roscoe Athletic Director Fred Ahart, who emceed the event. Id like to dedicate this in his memory.
The contest had two volunteers this year, ninth grader Amanda DeCotes and sophomore Angela Niforatos.
Niforatos choice of the Eighth Amendment, which focuses on a fair bonding for those arrested and prohibits cruel and unusual punishment for criminals, sprang from a fear of life without it.
It made me cringe to think about what it would be like without the Eighth Amendment, she said.
With the death penalty always a hot topic, Niforatos admitted that what actually constitutes cruel and unusual was debatable.
She surmised that the electric chair is a more modern and technological way of burning at the stake.
And she said prisoners in Alcatraz were treated with cruel methods.
Yet, Niforatos asked what our society would be like if there werent an amendment on the books that made us look at these cases and wonder.
As a followup, DeCotes brought an amendment written shortly after the Civil War into present times, noting that the 14th seems to be violated as well.
That amendment, written to protect citizens rights from being abridged and providing for due process of law, was abused first by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare and more recently by President Bushs Patriot Act, DeCotes said.
When it was ratified in 1868, DeCotes said the amendment was set up to morally protect and extend the rights granted by the Bill of Rights.
But, she added, this amendment has been interpreted differently.
With the Patriot Act, for example, DeCotes said the FBI can seize records from your local library and order the officials not to tell you.
Homes can be searched without a search warrant, and the federal government is essentially abridging our rights, she said.
After just 8 minutes and 6 seconds, DeCotes had the judges convinced.
Her research in history textbooks and on the Internet edged out Niforatos well studied and well-read essay for first prize of a $250 savings bond. Niforatos received second place honors and a $100 bond.
Both girls said they look forward to getting involved in the program again next year.
I wanted the experience talking, DeCotes noted. Im usually pretty quiet, and I liked putting my ideas out there.
I liked having people hear my opinions, Niforatos added.
DeCotes speech will be sent on to regional competition. If she continues to win, DeCotes can go on to the national level where scholarships are available for the top speakers.