American Legion Boys' State at Tennessee Tech offers close look at state government

For one week, a handful of Tennessee's gifted young men will get a chance to run things their way. About 600 high school juniors from across the state will attend American Legion Boys' State at Tennessee Technological University May 18-24 for a hands-on experiment in running a government.

During that week, the participants will cease to be Tennesseans and instead will become citizens of a mock 51st state: Boys' State. They'll organize political parties and establish city, county and state governments by election, complete with primaries and political campaigns.

Along the way, the Boys' Staters will have guidance from some experienced legislators and elected officials, including Gov. Don Sundquist, who delivers a speech to the group Friday, May 23. Sen. Tommy Burks, Sen. Gene Elsea, Rep. Jere Hargrove and Rep. Steve McDaniel will be on hand Monday to answer questions about Tennessee's political issues. The governor of 1996 Boys' State, Joseph Barringer of Memphis, will address the participants when they arrive on Sunday.

During the week, Burks; Cookeville city planner Kirby Hamilton; former state representative Jerry Jared; Cookeville attorney Jeffrey Jones; Billy Rodgers, senior field advisor for the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service; and retired Major General Carl Wallace, adjutant general of Tennessee's American Legion, will all assist the Boys' Staters in understanding how government works.

Participants in Boys' State are nominated by teachers, administrators and community leaders based on their academic talent and their potential for leadership. (Selected young women attend the American Legion Girls' State program in Murfreesboro.) In addition to the business of establishing a government, they'll take classes and test their understanding of the political system. Some will compete in the annual oratorical contest or the various athletic events, including a swim meet and an all-star basketball game. Others will take the stage for the talent show or perform with the Boys' State band.

At the end of the week, families of the participants can join them for a picnic on campus, and special guests can attend the governor's inaugural ball. On Saturday, all the participants will gather for the final parade, band concert and inauguration ceremony for the new governor.

This marks Boys' State's 32nd year at Tennessee Tech. The program began in 1949.