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Boys State Brings 300+ to Aberdeen to Practice Politics; Let’s Recruit More!

A sign of a problem in civics education lies in this morning’s AAN article on Boys State:

More than 300 high school seniors-to-be arrived on the Northern State University campus Monday for a weeklong civics exercise that gives them a chance to try their hands at politics and community building.

It was the first day of the 73rd American Legion Boys State, which has been hosted by NSU since its inception in 1940 [Kaylyn Deiter and Kelda Pharris, “Boys State Kicks Off on NSU Campus,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.06.02].

I’m thrilled to have the boys here for a week of practice in government and journalism. I attended Boys State in 1988, back when Aberdeen was an exotic, far-off town and not my home base. I sang in the Boys State choir under the direction of now NSU provost Alan LaFave. I rode Boys State Governor Bryce Healy‘s coattails to election as Attorney General, winning by a ten-to-one margin (further demonstrating that Libertarians would have done better to nominate me to run against Marty Jackley instead of Chad Haber).

I attended Boys State with over 600 fellow South Dakota boys, twice as many as are in town this week for the American Legion’s event. 398 attended in 2012.

Our youth population has not declined by half since my youth. So why are only half as many young men from the Class of 2016 coming to Boys State for a weeklong lesson in civics and networking? Perhaps the increasing number (and, if you want to play varsity, necessity?) of sports camps (USD, Augie) draws more young men away from plain old politics. Perhaps the American Legion is having trouble maintaining its own numbers and thus has trouble recruiting students from every Legion post in the state. Whatever the causes of the decline, we need more boys to come to Boys State, meet their peers from across the state, and learn how politics work.

Fellas, I’m glad you’re here. Now go home and tell your younger brothers and classmates how much you learn from Boys State, how cool it is to have supper with Governor Daugaard, and how every one of them should apply to Boys State 2016!


  1. mike from iowa 2015-06-02 07:54

    They have seen how South Dakota politics doesn’t work for the majority of citizens and maybe decided they want nothing to do with it. Might just as well be optimistic about this.

  2. leslie 2015-06-02 08:32

    My beautiful boy attended 1999 but then took his own life in september. Shall never forget his nominating teacher. depression marijuana mushrooms alcohol and dysfunctional family dont make a happy ending

  3. Nick Nemec 2015-06-02 08:47

    Oh Leslie, that’s so sad, I’m sure you have thought of him everyday of the last 16 years. Please accept my condolences.

  4. jerry 2015-06-02 08:59

    The good news is that it is in Aberdeen. The 300 can see for themselves how to make millions of dollars in politics while getting away with the theft with no problems, but only if you belong to the right party. The vacant buildings will speak louder than any kind of chorus or any kind of speech to rouse you for doing good for the state. You, the 300, need to be in it for yourselves as that is what is expected. Good fortune to all attendees and may the lobbyists checkbooks always be open to you.

  5. Bill Fleming 2015-06-02 13:46

    I was at Boy’s State in what must have been 1967 or ’68. I had only the vaguest idea what it was about and must admit that my favorite part was discovering the corn fritters they served for breakfast.

    I remember being really dazzled by the “big city” kids from Sioux Falls, Rapid City, etc, and baffled by the way so many of them already seemed to know what was going on while I (supposedly a smart kid from Custer) didn’t really have a clue.

    The astute among you (like, oh, say Troy Jones for example) will notice that not all that much has changed about me since then. ;-)

    It would be interesting to know who else has there the year I was. I wonder if any of them are still kicking around the SD or National political or business scene? Any idea if Boys State has records going back that far, Cory?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-02 14:40

    Bill, I’m sure the American Legion has those records. They don’t appear to have them online.

    I, too, was amazed at the guys (like Mike Samp from Sioux Falls!) who walked into Boys State with entire campaigns ready to launch. I don’t remember corn fritters in 1988, but I do remember morning calisthenics, singing “Down in the Valley” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in front of our strange all-male audience and getting rousing applause, watching Def Leppard on TV in the dayroom on Friday night, and thinking the guy who spoke for the SDGOP outperformed Rick Hauffe, who was there for the SDDP. Ah, my youthful errors!

  7. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-02 23:46

    I never went to boys state, or Girls’ State for that matter. I thought it was probably dumb. Plus, softball season had vegun. Priorities!

    Leslie, I am so sorry for your loss. What terrible heart break.

  8. grudznick 2015-06-02 23:54

    Mr. H, as a spelling stickler you should be self correcting. It is a “deaf leopard” and the boys staters would want you to be a speller.

  9. SuperSweet 2015-06-06 20:19

    I was there 51 years ago. It was a great experience and I didn’t know what I was getting into either. I didn’t apply, I was nominated by Bensley Rounds Post 280. The Post in Iroquois was named after Marion Rounds, the Jr Senator’s uncle, who gave all in WWII.

    I now recruit high school juniors for both Boys and Girls State using a ppt I have developed and update each year and also use the last year’s attendees who give great
    testimonials and the program sells itself. With the help of my ppt. I am the only one among 260 members in the Post that attended Boys State as far as I can tell.

    Thought you would like to know, Cory.

  10. SuperSweet 2015-06-06 20:27

    My math (or recollection) was in error. It was 52 years ago, 1963.

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