Students vie for awards in annual event

Abby Miller, an educator at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, describes the national History Day competition as "near and dear" to her heart.

"I was a History Day kid myself," Miller said Friday morning as she prepared to judge documentaries Wichita-area middle and high school students have spent the past several months preparing.

Friday marked the competition's first day at Friends University. It has been held at Wichita State University for the past 20 years, but the tradition was discontinued this year due to a lack of funds.

"We're really excited to host this competition and help history come alive for students," said Gisele McMinimy, Friends University spokeswoman.

The competition drew hundreds of students eager to present from one of five categories: exhibits, research papers, historical dramas, Web sites and documentaries. All shared the competition's yearly theme, Innovation in History.

"My heart is racing," said Julia Blasdel, an eighth-grade student at Wilbur Middle School in Wichita, as she prepared to present her junior group exhibit, "The Brownie Camera."

Blasdel has spent the past four months creating the exhibit with fellow students Katie Marceau and Amber Davis.

"This program gets kids excited about history," Miller said.

According to Gretchen Eick, a professor of history at Friends, first and second place winners are chosen for both middle and high school for each of the five categories. These winners go to the state competition in Topeka.

"If they win at state, they will go on to Washington, D.C., for nationals, where they have a chance to win a scholarship," Eick said.

Mitchell Shurtz and Nick Sharpes, eighth-grade students from Wilbur Middle School, said they chose to make their "Coleman Company" exhibit because they like to camp.

"It's fun to compete," said Shurtz.

After the awards ceremony, hosted by Biff Green, Friends University president, the first and second place winners were invited to participate in the State History Day contest in Topeka on April 17.

"Plans for next year's competition will start as soon as this year's is over," Miller said. "We don't want to see this program go away. It's always been a labor of love."