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(Enlarge) Students in this year's Boys State march around at McDaniel College in formation. The annual summer camp focuses on leadership and government education. (Photo by Kevin Dayhoff)

For those who may have noticed groups of young men marching around McDaniel College’s campus this week in formation and chanting, rest assured that it’s not a new approach to freshman orientation.

It’s Boys State.

The annual American Legion-sponsored summer program aimed to expose rising high school seniors to the intricacies and working of the federal, state, and local government, came to Westminster this week for its annual session.

During the week, the young future leaders attend hours of classroom instruction, lectures, group discussion and physical training.

This year, 160 boys from throughout Maryland — and three from Germany — are attending the summer residence program on The Hill at McDaniel College. The camp runs June 19-25.

American Legion counselor Steve Tatro, of Calvert County, is one of the counselors for “Legion City.”

“We divide the boys into four ‘cities,’ ” said Tatro.  

This year the four cities are Legion, Goldstein, Flag, and Darr, said Tatro as he kept one eye on the boys playing “integrity ball,” – a variation of dodge ball, only with a great deal more enthusiasm and chanting – on the Warfield Tennis Courts on Monday evening.

Boys State has a long summertime history.

The idea for Boys State to be an annual summer American Legion educational program in government for high school-aged leaders was first discussed in 1934.  

At that time, the impetus was to establish a program for young adults to “combat the inroads being started by the youth organizations of the Nazi and Soviet friendship groups here in the USA,” according to information from the American Legion.

The first Boys State program in the nation was held at the Illinois Fair Grounds in June 1935.  

The first program in Maryland took place at Fort George E. Meade in June 1947 and “had 36 boys enrolled.”  In Maryland, Boys State later moved to the U.S. Naval Academy and then later, in 1986, it moved to McDaniel, where it has been held ever since.

The American Legion Department of Maryland explains that Boys State is an “objective citizenship training school (for) young leaders to gain a valid concept of the operations, ideals, functions, and goals of government.”

The program developed “from an idea that youth should be offered a better perspective of the practical operations of government; that an individual is an integral part of, and commensurately responsible for, the character and success of government.”

Since 1993, Dr. Herb Smith of McDaniel College’s Political Science Department helps lead the government classes and legislative simulation program.

Smith said, “The first debate in the legislative simulation—- that first year, back in 1993, was a debate over whether Maryland ought to have a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget.  

“(Then)-Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey argued for it and Maryland Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City) argued against it. It just goes to show you that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Smith added that Rosenberg is the “iron man” of Boys State.  “He hasn’t missed a single Boys State program since 1993.”

Another Maryland legislator, State Sen. Joe Getty (R-Carroll and Baltimore Co.) attended Boys State in 1969.  

 “I attended … as a senior at North Carroll High School – at that time, it was held at the U.S. Naval Academy,” said Getty in an e-mail. “It was an excellent leadership program, and attracted the leading elected officials throughout the state who would come and address the students.”

Getty added, “My two oldest sons have attended Boy’s State at McDaniel. …  My daughter Laura attended Girl’s State and my youngest daughter Madison is attending Girl’s State at Salisbury (University) this week.”

He also said he has “participated in the legislative simulation at McDaniel for most of the last 15 years, beginning as a member of the House of Delegates.

“Boy’s State provides a great opportunity for young leaders to meet their peers from across the state and learn about state government,” said Getty. “The legislative component offers a realistic view of government because, as the students debate current issues before the Maryland General Assembly, they learn about the diversity of opinions from their own generation.

“Moreover, while these students may have a firm position on an issue, they learn that rarely are issues drawn in black and white but instead the art of passing legislation involves compromise somewhere in the shades of gray for the issue.”

Smith added, the legislative simulation portion of the Boys State program is “certainly an invaluable teaching tool.  It teaches the value of democracy … and that of self-government.

“It teaches future leaders that you gather your facts.  You make up your own mind — and you make a decision,” he said.

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