A month-long tournament that started with nearly 100 Westmont College students will culminate in a final showdown Feb. 28 — with cash prizes for the top contestants.

Several championship winners of speech and debate will each receive a top prize of $500 following Westmont’s Tournament of Expressions: Finals in Debate, Great Speeches, Persuasive Speeches, and Biblical Recitation.

Montecito residents Jean and Robert Svoboda donate annually to the tournament, making it one of the best funded in the nation. Westmont started the competition more than a decade ago to further the study and development of critical thinking and oral communication.

The competition is divided into two parts, one focused on speeches and the other on impromptu debate. Debate contestants are given a choice of two topics. After five minutes of preparation, each contestant has a total of 10 minutes to elaborate on the chosen topic, with the time broken up for arguments and rebuttals between the two contestants.

Students have also been competing in three categories of speeches. In “Persuasive Speeches,” speakers use logic and emotional appeals to try to change opinions and motivate their audience to take specific actions. In “Great Speeches,” students select a speech by a noted orator, then interpret and recite it in a meaningful way for a contemporary audience. The “Biblical Recitation” portion entails a dramatic re-enactment of a biblical text that draws out the subtleties and message of Scripture.

Westmont faculty, staff and alumni have been judging the tournament. A panel of nine will determine the championship winners. Students in the audience will be invited to enter their names into a free drawing for $100 at the end of the tournament.

The championship round will take place in Page Hall at 7 p.m. Feb. 28.

Scott Craig is Westmont College‘s media relations manager.

7 p.m. Feb. 28 in Page Hall.