Legion hosts more than 550 students
American Legion Utah held its annual Boys and Girls State conference for teenagers going into their senior year of high school earlier this month.
According to Bob Jones, State Judge Advocate and volunteer for 22 years, American Legion Boys State started as an effort to counter fascism by teaching about democracy.
"It was a way for people to get together and show support for their country," Jones said.
The American Legion Utah has been organizing the Boys State program since 1939, with the exception of four years during World War II.
Boys State celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this month at Weber State University, with 258 boys and 55 staff members in attendance.
Jones said the volunteers’ fill the whole week with nonstop events.
"The boys have their first state meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday morning and by the time they go to bed at 11:30 p.m. that night they’ve set up a full government. From that point they start governing themselves and the staff steps into an advisory role," Jones said.
The program holds a special presentation in honor of Flag Day. This year the Legion also honored U.S. Air Force pilot Colonel Jay Hess. Jones said they also honored Outstanding Alumni Reed Richards for his participation in Boys State and service as Weber County Attorney.
"The reason we do this is to show the boys that alumni go on to do really great things," Jones said.
During the same week, the legion hosted a similar event for girls.
According to Virginia McKay, who has been appointed director of Girls State for 2012, there were 321 girls who attended the program at Southern Utah University.
"The Girls State pretty much mirrors Boys State, with banquets, mock trials and legislative meetings," McKay said.
McKay said the girls always seem a little scared when they arrive because they don’t know what to expect, but by the end of the week, they are all best friends.
Kristy King, of South Summit High School, said she had a great experience at Girls State this year.
"I knew one girl originally and there were 321 girls there. I got along well with most of the girls in my group," King said.
She said the girls were sectioned off into cities, which consist of 25 girls to one counselor.
Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General and a guest speaker encouraged the girls to keep away from drugs and alcohol and to live above the influence, King said.
King said the entire week was intense, but good and she encourages other girls to apply.
One of the most important things she learned was how to be a patriot.
"Before I didn’t realize how unpatriotic I was. We learned about the history of our flag and how the flag is sacred. I didn’t realize how amazing it is." King added, "It was one of the best weeks of my life."
Meghan Bubel and Jennika Pasinsky of Park City High School as well as Jordan Lovette, Alyssa Willoughby and Darby Richens from North Summit High School, and Bianca Greeff from South Summit High School also attended Girls State.
Adam Klawe of PCHS, Dylan Noaker and Connor Crandall of South Summit High School, and Hayden Hyde and Lachlan MacIntosh of North Summit High School attended Boys State.
For more information on American Legion Utah, or how to apply for Boys or Girls State next year, please visit http://www.utlegion.org .
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.