American Legion Post 81 trustee and Executive Board member Mary Baier said, “Boys State is not a school room activity but a practical experience solving problems of government as it operates in Tennessee.”
She said the week of May 26 to June 1 at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville was not a replacement for civics or government classes taught in high school. Only juniors in the upper third of their classes are eligible to attend. Students must be approved by their high school principals and by a local American Legion Post.
“Boys State and Girls State give students practical experience of government by putting into practice the theories of government through actual participation in city, county and state government as a mythical 51st state,” she said of the program’s activities.
Baier said approximately 600 boys from across the state learned the functions of government by forming city, county and state governments and passing legislation. Locally, one boy and one girl were selected from Bradley Central High School, Cleveland High School, Walker Valley High School, Polk County High School and Copper Basin High School.
Volunteer Girls State is a leadership and citizenship training-program offered to young women. Similar to Boys State, Girls State participants also form and run a mythical state from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro in June.
“The program is nonpartisan and nonpolitical with the purpose to teach and provide a practical understanding of the American form of government and good citizenship,” Baier said.
American Legion Post 81 Commander Wes Billings tipped his hat to the students for getting involved in government and learning how the nation’s Founding Fathers envisioned local, county and state government should operate.
“For some of you, it might be something you want to jump into and try to make it that way,” he said.
One Volunteer Girls State delegate, Alexandra Lauren Choat, a senior at Cleveland High School received her certificate in person. Four Boys State delegates who attended the reception to receive their certificates were: Bradley Central High School senior John Caleb Robinson, Cleveland High School senior Kevin Harricharran, Walker Valley High School senior Dillan Edwards and Polk County High School senior Robert L. Johnson.
Baier asked each recipient to say something about the experience.
“We’ve had some really great experiences. We’ve had some students who were really mad at their parents for dumping them off for a week and when their parents came back a week later to get them, they didn’t want to go home.”
John Robinson said, “I was one of those she was talking about that was begging their parents not to make him go. But, as soon as I got there, I met a couple of really good guys from Ooltewah that I hung out with the whole time. It was a great experience.”
Post 81 Chaplain Oscar Kelley told of going to a funeral in Alabama with his 49-year-old son. They drove past an old building that was a funeral home during World War II. There was a bell at the building and a sign stating the bell would ring 100 times when the war was over.
“I went by and saw that and I saw the director and asked if I could do that,” Kelley said. “When the war ended, I rang that bell 100 times. My son said, ‘No, you didn’t do that.’”
Kelley said that when he was in the fourth grade, he raised the flag at the dedication of a new school.
“I was in the Boy Scouts then,” he said. “They had me raise the flag and the picture came out in the Birmingham Herald, Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press.
“Why am I saying this?
“Because you boys and girls who are receiving the certificates, you might not think about them now, but as you grow older, you will be proud of the accomplishments you made at this stage.
“That’s the first time I had ever related that to either one of my children, and you know what? That made me one proud dad.”
According to the Boys State website, the program has been a part of The American Legion since 1935, when it organized to counter fascist-inspired Young Pioneer Camps. The program was the idea of two Illinois Legionnaires, Hayes Kennedy and Harold Card, who organized the first American Legion Boys State at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
The American Legion Auxiliary sponsors a similar program for young ladies called Girls State.
At American Legion Boys State, participants are exposed to the rights and privileges, the duties and the responsibilities of a franchised citizen. The training is objective and practical with city, county and state governments operated by the students elected to the various offices. Activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, chorus and recreational programs.