Young men learn about government operations, structure at Boys State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The federalists and nationalists chanted back and forth Wednesday as they waited for political debates to get under way.
They also cheered, clapped and danced along to the song “Eye of the Tiger” of “Rocky” fame to get their perspective parties pumped up.
That was a typical scene during the 73rd annual Tar Heel Boys State, which is being held this week on the campus of Catawba College.
“I never thought it was going to be this fun,” said T.J. Bell, a rising senior at Carson High School. “I thought it was going to be sort of lame, but my mind changed once I got here.”
American Legion Posts throughout the state select the top rising seniors to attend the week-long event, which serves as a practical study of the structure and operation of state and local government.
During the week, students live under a mock government system in which they are divided into cities. They have the opportunity to research and write bills, elect officers and become members of fictitious parties.
“Ultimately, the goal is for them to learn more about the governmental process including how to write a bill, how a bill becomes law and how to campaign if they want to run for an office,”Program Coordinator Christopher Byrd said. “We also teach them to be more patriotic so they learn things about the flag that maybe they didn’t know.”
This is the seventh year Byrd has served as coordinator and the 12th he’s been involved with the program, which he originally attended as a teen.
“It’s long hours, late nights and early mornings, but at the end of the week it’s all worth it because of what these guys walk out of here with,” he said.
Bell said the leadership skills he’s garnered throughout the week will be helpful in the future.
Josh Gobble, an East Rowan student, said he’s learned a lot about the different parts of the state by becoming friends with his fellow Boys State citizens.
Justin Burroughs, another East student, described his Boys State experience as wonderful.
“I will definitely take away how the government actually works and how things are actually run and what to do and what not to do as far as campaigning for the future if I do become a politician,” he said.
Byrd said he’s always impressed by the students who show up to Boys State. This year there are 257 in attendance.
“Everybody thinks our young people want to do crazy stuff and that they are irresponsible, but then you run into these guys who are talking about the economy, talking about transportation, talking about Medicare and other health care programs and you realize that they are looking out for themselves and for the future as well.”
Bob Price, a member of the Salisbury American Legion Post 342, said after hearing a report about last year’s Boys State, he decided to get involved as a volunteer counselor.
“I thought it was a good program and I decided I wanted to put in some time to help out these kids,” he said. “I think these young men are learning quite a bit about the way our government is working from the grassroots level all the way up to the states.”
A number of elected officials including Salisbury City Councilman William Kennedy and state Attorney General Roy Cooper stopped by to speak to the participants throughout the week.
The boys will put on a talent show, which is open to the public, starting at 8 a.m. Friday in Keppel Auditorium. The week of events will wrap up Saturday.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.