MARSHALL - The American Legion Boys State experience has the potential to be life-changing. Countless past Boys Staters have gone on to do remarkable things, including last year's group of young leaders, who successfully took on a challenge from American Legion officials.
That challenge - to encourage more participation - led to a large jump in enrollment, the biggest increase the program has seen in the last 50 years, Boys State Director Mike Bredeck said.
"I think what is happening is the kids are having a great experience and taking it home and that's growing the program," Bredeck said. "Last year we focused on the theme that you're in this seat, now bring someone else back. I think they did that."
Approximately 385 seniors-to-be from across the state of Minnesota are expected to participate in the 64th American Legion Boys State program this year from Sunday through Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Boys State is geared toward learning about Minnesota government at the local, country and state levels. Participants also learn about patriotism and citizenship while experiencing the political campaign process. The goal is to instill a sense of responsibility in the young men, with the hopes that they'll take the knowledge and experience they've gained throughout the week and apply it into their school and community in a positive way.
"We're looking at having a very fantastic year," Bredeck said. "We have a real optimistic viewpoint, especially since enrollment is way up."
When: Boys Staters move in Sunday. Boys State runs throughout next week.
How many: 386 boys (registered) from around Minnesota will be in town.
Bredeck also expressed excitement over the impressive list of 2012 speakers this year, which includes Mark Ritchie (Minnesota Secretary of State), Anders Folk (former U.S. Attorney and Marine Corps officer), Marty Seifert (former state representative), Kurt Daudt (Assistant Majority Leader), Terry Morrow (Minority Whip), Jim Way (Ramsey police chief), Hank Shea (University of St. Thomas professor) and Dan Ludwig (past national commander of the American Legion).
"Our Sunday night speaker is going to be awful good," Bredeck said. "He's a graduate of Harvard who is working on a new way of food sources. It's a whole cutting edge new industry. We'll also have a pair of governors from the labor industry in St. Paul coming out and speaking one night."
Bredeck estimates that about a half-dozen past governors will speak this year, including 2011 Boys State Governor Graham Sparks. A number of others - including Legionnaires, former Boys Staters, teachers and civic-minded individuals from various professions - volunteer their time in a variety of way. By working together, the adult role-models have a strong impact on the young leaders each year.
"It's a good way to show (the Boys Staters) that once they're elected to the leadership position, what they're able to do and take from that," Bredeck said.
While past speaker Paul Anderson, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, is unable to attend this year due to a schedule conflict, Justice Barry Anderson is expected to take his place and speak to the Boys Staters about the Judicial Branch.
Attendees actively organize and participate in various levels and branches of the government in addition to taking part in athletics (volleyball, basketball and softball), music (band and choir) and other activities (newspaper staff) during the week-long event. The Boys State Choir and Band concert will be held at 6:30 p.m. on June 15 in the Schwan Center for the Performing Arts at Marshall High School.
Boys State participants and staff members will be housed in the residence halls at SMSU, which has had the opportunity to host Boys State for sixth straight years. The university will continue playing host to the annual event through 2016.
"What I like about SMSU is that it has a hometown kind of flavor," Bredeck said. "It's a community-based college. You can't tell the difference between the college and the community because they all support each other. ... And they're very accommodating at every level. Whatever it is, they just take care of it."
The seniors-to-be are sponsored by American Legion posts across the state. The American Legion Post 113 in Marshall is sending eight Boys Staters this year, including Nick Evans, Tanner Bukowski, Bo Erickson, Austin Leek, Daniel Merna, Tyler Untiedt, Sathira Wijesekara and Stephen Womack.