SHERIDAN — Running for public office can be a grueling process requiring charisma, dedication, knowledge and a hint of fortuity. Starting next week, eight local high school boys selected to attend the 66th annual American Legion’s Wonderful Wyoming Boys’ State Conference will learn if they possess these qualities.
The selected student delegates will participate in primary and general elections to determine their place in a mock government before heading to Cheyenne to learn from the elected official they are mirroring.
The week-long conference that begins at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds in Douglas is a unique summertime program that utilizes hands-on participation in a model state to allow personal experience in governmental workings not afforded in textbook learning.
Interested students in each of the 49 states that host Boys State conferences must be headed to their senior year of high school and apply to be considered for the free conference. Boys are sponsored by local American Legion posts that send participants to their state’s program.
The boys have already achieved high honor by simply making it to the mock elections as the application process included writing an essay, submitting a resume with school and community involvements, a review of school transcripts and an approval by state heads after being recommended by a local post.
Upon arriving, participants begin selecting their elected officials through campaigning to complete a governmental body reflective of their own state’s, including the election of a governor, senators, a secretary of state, agency heads like secretary of treasury and more.
The elections are operated as a two-party system, and the attendees are assigned to a party typically bearing names like the “Pioneers” and the “Frontiers” as to not reflect the two major political parties in America or their typical beliefs while still allowing instruction to take place in the two-party structure.
Others will choose to participate in the Judicial Circuit by becoming judges, jurors and other key players. A speaker of the house and other agency heads are also selected.
The boys not successful in their elections can be appointed to positions such as the governor’s cabinet and all participants are players in the mock government.
The Wyoming delegates are housed and fed in the 4-H dormitories at the fairgrounds annually the first full week of June and will receive three meals a day, a variety of guest speakers and an abundance of learning.
Both of Wyoming’s elected U.S. Senators and the U.S. Representative will meet with them, and Leonard Robinson, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, will provide a keynote speech.
The Bataan Death March occurred in 1942 after the Imperial Japanese Army forced more than 60,000 prisoners of war, including American prisoners, to transfer to Camp O’Donnell after the Battle of Bataan ended. The journey killed over 10,000 prisoners before they reached their destination.
Ron Wood was the Sheridan Chairperson of Boys State for many years and said Robinson is always a highlight of the week.
“He has been in the program for many years and is one of the top-rated speakers to the boys every year,” he said. “The boys get to learn much about war and being a soldier through him, which is also an integral part of our government.”
On the final day of the conference, the boys travel to Cheyenne and spend the day implementing what they’ve learned by occupying the office to which they have been elected and participating in the actual operations of the state.
“The boys in the court system go over to the courthouse and sit in on trials,” Wood said. “Several boys go to the governor’s office to meet with the governor’s aid and staff there, and if the governor has a bill to sign while they are there, the student governor gets to sit in on that process.”
Gov. Matt Mead will also address the group as a whole while they are in town, and as an added benefit has committed to take the top five elected officials with him for an entire day of shadowing after the conclusion of the conference.
At a time determined by his schedule, the students will attend all of his meetings and will even travel on the governor’s jet if his day requires travel.
At the end of the conference the boys all receive a diploma and then elect two leaders to represent the state at Boys Nation.
Boys Nation delegates will replicate the experience in Washington, D.C., by participating in a mock national government and visiting the White House and their state’s House and Senate offices.
At Boys Nation, the elections are again held but this time they run for President and Vice President of the United States.
“You run for office and do the politics just like you would in real life to sell yourself to the delegates and staff and get yourself elected except the boys elect their choices and the staff then approves the election,” Wood said. “Our local boys are usually in the top 5 percent of the Boys Nation delegates.”
In fact, last year’s elected Governor of Wyoming was from Big Horn and he was one of the two students selected for the trip to D.C.
Those interested in more information or participating in future conferences can see www.wyboysstate.org.
Sheridan County Wonderful Wyoming Boys delegates
Big Horn High School:
• Edward Atter, son of Burt and Cindi Atter
Sheridan High School:
• Adam Berry, son of John and Janet Berry
• Lachlan Berry, son of Michael and Melinda Berry
• Cameron Craft, son of Rev. John Craft IV and Lori Craft
• Jess Edens, son of Tim Edens and Cecilia Norskog
• Thomas Fenn, son of John Fenn and Armella Fenn
• Cody Perkins, son of Thomas Perkins and Sandy Kingsley
•Taylor Wendtland, son of Tony and Debra Wendtland