Twenty-four young women and men from Fayette County who will be seniors this upcoming school year recently experienced attending Buckeye Boys State and Buckeye Girls State.
A dinner was held July 6 at the American Legion Post 25 to recognize these future leaders.
Washington C.H. Municipal Court Judge Victor Pontious addressed the audience, stressing the point of how important local government is in our society.
Pontious, himself an attendee of Buckeye Boys State when he was a junior in high school, spoke to the crowd, especially to the young people, reiterating his belief in the importance of local government.
After the meal, the young people who were able to attend the dinner (12 in all) each took a turn at the podium, telling of their experience at Buckeye Boys and Buckeye Girls State.
Many were apprehensive prior to going to Miami University, where Buckeye Boys and Buckeye Girls State was held.
A few said their week began kind of slowly, but once they got to meet with other young people, they all agreed that it was a great experience and they were happy to have taken part and would do it again.
Second Vice of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 25, Debbie Carr, addressed the audience, followed by the young women, then the young men who were delegates from Fayette County.
“Buckeye Girls State is designed to educate Ohio’s young women in the duties, privileges, rights and responsibilities of good citizenship,” Carr said. “By getting involved in the process, the delegates learn more about city, county and state governments in one week than they will learn in an entire semester in high school.
“I would also like to thank the Jeffersonville Lions Club, Masonic Lodge 107, Weade Realty, Merchants National Bank, AmVets,” Carr said. “They helped send these girls (to Buckeye Girls State) and Carol Pontious, Lisa Hoppes and Victoria Monroe.”
Morgan Cartwright was the first student to speak.
“There were a lot of amazing things that happened at Buckeye Girls State,” Cartwright said. “I lived in Montgomery City with an amazing roommate and amazing people on my floor.
“As the week started, we all had to decide what positions we were going to run for,” Cartwright said. “I already had in mind that I wanted to be a judge, because it sounded fun and it was something new.
“We also had some workshops to help us decide on what level, like, county, state, city position we would enjoy,” Cartwright said. “I decided I would run for Court of Common Pleas, which is a county position. My friends and I from our city had to start convening and talking to other delegates around the campus and I didn’t feel nervous to talk to anybody when I usually do.
“I also had a slogan; In a world full of wrongs, I can make it right,” Cartwright said. “Then elections started and we had to meet in our county caucuses, which were made up of people from our county and political party. It was about 60 girls.
“We had to give a 30-second speech about why we wanted to be in that position,” Cartwright said. “I went up there and gave my speech and I got voted to the next round. I go to the advisors and I asked them, ‘Do I have to give another speech tomorrow?’”
The answer was, no, you can give one at the state competition, Cartwright was told.
“I asked why and they said, ‘you ran for state court of appeals,’” Cartwright said. “So, I was freaking out. I thought I was just going to give a speech to 60 girls. So I had to give a whole new speech and memorize it in two hours. So, I show up to the state caucus and there was like 220-something girls. My heart’s racing, I’m super nervous. Court of Appeals had to give their speech first.
“I went up there first and gave my speech and my hands were shaking,” Cartwright said. “Everyone in my city helped me through it. I learned not to give up. Just do it. Just go with the flow, you know?
“I got past that speech and I made it to the primaries,” Cartwright said. “I made it past the primaries. There were five Federalists and five Nationalists and only three from each got to move on to the general election. Only three of the six made it past that.
“You know what I had to do?” Cartwright said. “More campaigning. Hours and hours of campaigning. Honestly, it was super-fun campaigning. I got it and I was on the Court of Appeals. I was given a robe and a gavel. They only had one gavel for three people.
“People had to refer to me as Justice Cartwright, which made me feel pretty cool,” Cartwright said. “We started work and I had a lot of fun doing the cases, which included real, live cases. We also had some funny ones.
“I had an absolute blast at Buckeye Girls State. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. Girls supported girls and it felt like a safe space. Everyone was so sweet and made you feel like you were meant to be there just as much as they were.
“Montgomery City will always have a place in my heart,” Cartwright said. “This experience will forever impact me and it made me a better person.”
Vivienne Jacobson was next to speak.
“When I arrived, I decided I’d like to run as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Jacobson said. “I was inspired to run for this position after the Ohio Supreme Court visited my high school (Miami Trace) this past spring and I was selected as an ambassador for Justice (Sharon L.) Kennedy.
“Their visit sparked my interest in the judicial system,” Jacobson said. “And my time at Girls State showed me not only how the judicial system functions, but how the inner workings of elections function, as well.
“I made a lot of friends from schools all over the state,” Jacobson said. “I would like to thank the Ladies Auxiliary again for the opportunity to represent Miami Trace. Thank you.”
Addison Chambers took to the podium next.
“Going into this experience, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Chambers said. “I, of course, had heard a lot of great things. Our sponsors were great and told us all that we needed to know to prepare for the experience.
“Going into it, I knew I was going to make a lot of friends,” Chambers said. “I knew I was going to learn a lot about the government. But, I truly could not have ever been truly prepared for what all I was going to deal with and learn with this experience. I met so many people and made so many friends from all over the state.
“Some people with different backgrounds, different views, different beliefs and different ideas,” Chambers said. “It was great being able to put all of our ideas together. It was a very supportive environment. All of the girls were very empowering and just so nice.
“I ended up running for county prosecutor, which was great for me, because I actually want to go into law,” Chambers said. “I felt as though that position would give me a great insight as to what that job entails. I did end up getting the job. It was great. We had a lot of funny cases; a lot of arson, for some reason.
“I just learned a lot and I am so thankful that I got this opportunity,” Chambers said.
Ryleigh Tooill was next to speak.
“First of all, I would like to thank my sponsors, Post 25,” Tooill said. “Girls State was such a great experience. I learned so much about the government, stuff that you just really don’t think about. You don’t understand it from the classes you take. You just learn so much in a week. Even though I didn’t win at state and I didn’t win at county, but I won at city.
“My favorite thing that my counselor told me was, ‘if you want to win at state, you’ll learn a lot, but if you win at city, you’ll have a lot of fun,’” Tooill said. “And that we did. Our city meetings were full of fun. We had a pageant show. We just had a whole bunch of crazy stuff. It was super-educational while we had fun.
“I just want to thank everyone who made this opportunity for me possible,” Tooill said.
Blake Sollars spoke next.
“I had a really good time at Buckeye Boys State,” Sollars said. “I’ll remember a lot of the memories I made there. Before I went there, I came up with the idea randomly, definitely not influenced by TV at all, to be a private attorney.
“By complete luck of getting there an hour early, I was president of the bar association,” Sollars said. “I had a lot of fun being a private attorney. I made business cards that said, ‘if you’re in legal trouble, better call Sollars.’ Those were a big hit.
“There were a lot of assault cases, more than you would expect,” Sollars said. “It was all playing with rubber bands and stuff. My proudest moment was getting paid $1,200 for a $15 parking ticket. I learned a lot. I was taught less but learned more in a week than I ever had before.
“I’m very thankful for this Post and everyone who sponsored me and put faith in me to go to this camp,” Sollars said. “Thank you all very much.”
Brendan Major was next up.
“I was in Strong City all week,” Major said. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a bit of a big experience for me. I’d never really done anything of the sort. I have to say I don’t regret it one bit. It was a lot of fun and it truly was a week to shape a lifetime. I learned a lot and made a lot of friends.
“We had a group chat with everyone in the city,” Major said. “And we still talk to this day almost constantly throughout the week. I learned a lot about government that you really don’t learn in school. It was only a week in the program, but I feel like I learned so much more than anything in my government class. I would encourage anyone else that ever has a chance to do it.
“I want to thank our local legion post for sending me and allowing me to represent Miami Trace,” Major said. “It truly was a great experience.”
Toby Mitchell then spoke to the crowd.
“When I first got to Buckeye Boys State, my week went really slow,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t really do anything for the first few days. Then things started to kick in. I actually ended up in the Treasurer’s Office for the state. We were more powerful than the governor at that point. We were able to make money. We ended up with like $86 million dollars by the end of the week. With that money, we were trying to get legislation passed. We were trying to create a casino in all the cities, so people could gamble during their recreation time.
“We were trying to create an airport so we could bypass all the traffic laws while we were there,” Mitchell said. “Our state patrol was very, very strict. They were going after everyone.
“There were a lot of things that were really interesting to learn,” Mitchell said. “We got to have fun while we were doing it.
“I’d like to thank the Post and Legion that sent me,” Mitchell said. “I had a lot of fun and I would do it again.”
Carter Bainter said his week started off very chaotic.
“I wanted to join the band, so I had a band mate put it forward. I also needed to pick up papers to run for Court of Appeals,” said Bainter. “So, I ended up running from, in the band banquet, running across the entire campus to get my papers, then I ran all the way back to my city caucus. Then I had more busy work the rest of that day.
“The next day, I was working on getting signatures for that paper,” Bainter said. “Until I failed my bar exam both times.
“My third day was kind of boring,” Bainter said. “I didn’t do much. Then I got my job. I was safety service director for my city. They threw us straight into the fire. We had no clue what we were doing. They gave us tips as we went and we ended getting a tight-knit group between our group and our city.
“We still talk to this day,” Bainter said. “We have a group chat like Strong City does with our city.
“There were definitely some interesting things that happened,” Bainter said. “Our governor was assassinated at one point. They weren’t too happy with that, but, it was a good kick for the rest of us.
“I would go again and I thank the American Legion for having me go,” Bainter said.
Wyatt Hicks spoke next.
“My experience at Boys State was pretty mixed to start,” Wyatt Hicks said. “It was very slow with not a lot of moving parts to begin. I ended up going for a county position. I went for a judge in the municipal court, which, I ended up winning that. Immediately after that, I had to take the bar exam and, like Carter, I failed both times.
“I had to find a new job and, luckily, the city jobs were open, so I went for city treasurer and I got that,” Hicks said. “To start that was pretty hectic. You had to get all the budgets out and ready so money could start flowing in and out. There was a lot of pressure on you to start.
“Once you get the budget out, it’s a lot of fun after that,” Hicks said. “It’s just spending money and making more money. It was a fun experience. It taught me a lot more than just government. It helped me with my self-confidence, just making more friends. Just learning how to talk publicly, like this.
“I want to thank the post that sponsored me,” Hicks said. “It truly was a blessing to go.”
Jacob Michael then spoke to the crowd.
“I did not know I was going to be talking today,” Michael said. “The whole couple of months before, I did not want to go, at all. I kept asking my mom, ‘Why do I have to go? I don’t want to go. Why?’
“I didn’t know why I got picked,” Michael said. “I still don’t know why I got picked. The first couple of days were awful. I had no clue what this was. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
“As soon as I got a job and my job was city council clerk, I jotted down everything that the city council did,” Michael said. “Every ordinance and every resolution. It made me like being there. As soon as I got my job, it was so much better.
“Another thing is, about the second day, I got held at finger gunpoint,” Michael said. “My attorney over there, Blake Sollars, he got me $20,000. That was a big win for him.
“I’m so glad I went,” Michael said. “I wish it was a week longer. I wish I could go again. It was a great learning experience. I was in the band; that was a big honor. It was just awesome. Thanks to everybody.”
Aiden Johnson said he didn’t know what he was going to do when he first got there.
“I was really nervous,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I didn’t want to go. I’m a big sports guy; I’ve only been to sports camps. This is my first camp that didn’t involve sports.
“When I got there, I decided to run for city council,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get elected. Then I decided to work for the Department of Natural Resources. That was a lot of fun. The friends I made; it was a great experience. The city meetings we had every night were great fun.
“I made a lot of friends, learned to play the piano a lot better, too,” Johnson said. “We actually made a state park, as well with ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and that was a lot of fun, too. The legislation took forever to pass.
“I want to thank this Post and this Legion for sending me,” Johnson said. “I thank you all.”
Blake Walker then took to the podium.
“Me and my two best friends, made it into Boys State — Caden Shiltz and Reece Self, who, sadly, can’t be here tonight,” Walker said. “We all kind of agreed that we were all going to go into law enforcement together when we got there.
“Caden got state trooper and Reece got chief of police of our city,” Walker said. “I got denied state trooper, denied the position of deputy sheriff, and denied city police. I said screw it and joined the army. I got the rank of captain in the Boys State national guard.”
A change in responsibilities soon followed for Walker.
“I went from being a captain, which, my job would’ve been responding to disasters, to being the guy in charge of all Army operations within the Boys State National Guard,” Walker said. “I was shooting for something small and got something big. I was kind of worried at that point, until they told me what I’d be doing.
“They said, ‘most of the stuff you’re going to be doing is responding to scenarios that aren’t real,’” Walker said. “Like, a dam broke or a tornado came through, or, there are rioters in Columbus. That was all until three mayors were shot with a banana gun. So was our governor.
“I had to be personally in charge of all National Guard deployments, protecting the governor, mayors, sheriffs,” Walker said. “I had to work with the State patrol. I had to go on patrol myself, looking for terrorists.
“It was an experience and I got to learn how the National Guard actually works,” Walker said. “I learned that the state does not like to give you money. The federal government is a lot more willing to.
“I’m glad I got to go,” Walker said. “I got to meet a lot of great people. I got to do a lot of cool things. If I could go back and do it again, I would.”
At this point in the program, Judge Pontious addressed the audience.
“It’s been a pleasure to hear all these good kids talk tonight,” Pontious said. “I attended Buckeye Boys State when I was a junior in high school. That was a long time ago; 1966.
“Sometimes when you look back at things you see how it affects your life,” Pontious said. “It did have a profound effect on me in a couple of ways. It certainly bolstered my patriotism. We had these speakers every night who were tremendous speakers. They were very patriotic. It just kind of bolstered what I thought.
“The other thing that Boys State taught me was the importance of local government,” Pontious said. “I ran for city council and was president of city council. Again, I don’t think there’s anything more important than local government. I was able to work for the Village of Jeffersonville for a number of years. That was great. We had a great council. Sue Burnside (seated in the audience) was one of those council members.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important than local government,” Pontious said. “Those two things, my patriotism and local government, how that affected my career.
“I want to encourage the kids here to keep a positive attitude about our country and about our soldiers,” Pontious said. “Never forget local government, because that is very important. I’ve dedicated my life to trying to help administer justice here.
“I appreciate the American Legion and all you do and all you have done for our country,” Pontious said.
See inside for bios of all of the Buckeye Boys State and Buckeye Girls State participants.
Editor’s note: Americanism test winners will be featured in a future edition of the Record-Herald.