Cooperstown Central School will be sending three students to compete in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. The university is located near to Washington D.C.
Eighth graders Pierce Snyder, Ilsa Dohner and Grace LeCates qualified for the national contest by placing second in their respective categories in the state competition.
“When we found out we were going to nationals it was this huge honor,” said Dohner.
For National History Day, students from around the U.S., several U.S. territories and armed forces schools choose a historical topic based on the current year’s theme.
This year’s competition’s theme is rights and responsibilities.
Students then do primary and secondary historical research on a topic related to the theme, before presenting projects in either paper, exhibit, performance, documentary or website form. Exhibits, performances, documentaries and websites can be either group or individual projects, and students compete in junior and senior divisions. The junior division is open to students in middle school, while the senior division is open to high school students.
Snyder’s project was a paper on Curt Flood and free agency in major league baseball. Dohner and LeCate’s project was an exhibit on the Berlin Wall.
In the National History Day Contest, students compete against one another in their respective categories at the regional and state level in order to be able to move onto the national contest. Students are judged based off the quality of their projects, as well as their performances in interviews about their projects from a panel of judges.
“We had done so much research on it that it kind of came naturally,” said LeCates.
“With regionals I was really nervous,” said Snyder, who said that he wasn’t nervous during his state interview, in part because he’d already had one of the judges at regionals.
Cooperstown sent 15 students to regionals this year, which were held in New Berlin and 12 moved on to the state contest.
“The only ones that got knocked out were knocked out by our own students,” said John Brotherton, a history teacher at CCS who serves as a co-advisor for the school’s National History Day Club.
Brotherton said that the contest experienced a bit of a revival at CCS this year because, for the first time, a club was established.
Dohner and LeCates won their category in regionals, as did Snyder.
The students said that none of them had expected to move on to the national competition.
“Going into states … Ilsa and I were not expecting to place,” said LeCates.
“I wanted to advance past regionals,” said Snyder, who said that his main goal had been to win the sports award at the state competition.
Snyder lost the award to an another Curt Flood project, but he says that he was ecstatic to go to nationals, and is aiming to win the baseball award at the national competition.
Brotherton had high praise for all three students and their projects.
“These girls did an amazing project on the Berlin Wall,” said Brotherton.
The Berlin Wall divided communist controlled East Berlin and non-communist West Berlin in Germany during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Dohner said that she and LeCates learned a lot about the Cold War over the course of their research.
“Going into the project we really didn’t know anything about the Berlin Wall,” said LeCates, who said that they’d specifically chosen to select a topic that they didn’t know about beforehand.
For their exhibit, the girls made a wooden replica of the Berlin Wall, complete with barbed wire and graffiti.
“It was really fun to spray paint,” said Dohner.
Additionally, the exhibit included pictures, quotes, a video of the wall being broken down played on a tablet, a magazine from 1961 and a magazine from 1989, as well as writing from the girls themselves. As part of their primary research, the girls also found a chunk of the Berlin Wall, owned by a friend of Dohner’s sister, that they went and saw.
“Just like Berlin it’s kind of divided into east and west,” said Brotherton on the exhibit. “It’s really thematically good.”
“I’m a big baseball fan,” said Snyder, on why he chose to write his paper on Curt Flood and free agency, saying that he also thought the National Baseball Hall of Fame Could be a good resource.
Flood fought to establish free agency in Major League Baseball and do away with the reserve clause, a struggle that would eventually change the face of American professional sports and paving the way for modern contracts and free agency.
“Pierce hit all the marks,” said Brotherton. “He was very good at connecting the topic with the theme of rights and responsibilities.”
Snyder was made aware of Flood’s story by Michelle Hitchcock, the CCS librarian and the other adviser for the National History Day club. He said National Baseball Hall of Fame was very helpful with the project, emailing him a packet of documents on Flood. Snyder said the most interesting document he looked at was the letter Flood sent to Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bowie Kuhn asking that he be made a free agent.
All three students expressed excitement about going to nationals.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said LeCates, on the level of competition she expected.
While both LeCates and Snyder have been to Washington D.C. before, this will be the first time for Dohner.
“I’m so happy because I’ve always wanted to look at museums there,” she said.
The national competition will take place from June 15 to June 19 this year. More information can be found by visiting www.nhd.org.