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Boys’ State camp continues to promote critical thinking, leadership skills

WESTON American Legion Mountaineer Boys State is celebrating its 80th year this week, having kicked off the festivities Sunday. The camp, which finishes Saturday, is held at WVU Jackson s Mill, which is where it was started in 1937. This is the second oldest Boys State Camp in the nation, said Jim Davis, camp director.

It s going really well. We have 362 of the finest boys in the state of West Virginia, Davis said. They re very energetic and very smart, and that s what makes the camp so nice.

The camp allows attendees to learn about city, county and state government through participation. The campers are divided among cabins and can run for office there and then for state-level offices. Guest speakers are brought in to discuss the nature of their jobs with the campers, who are then able to participate in mock scenarios related to their elected office at Boys State. Max McGinnis, a camper from Huntington, said he has always been interested in legislation. He is running for the House of Delegates and mayor of his cabin. He hopes that at Boys State he ll be able to grow as a leader.

I think the level of prestige you see at Boys State is something of a tradition in West Virginia, and it really shows who the top dogs in the state are. You re crazy if you say no, McGinnis said. It s a chance to be around peers who are also leaders in their schools, and not only build off your own leadership but also learn from other leadership styles.

Others, such as Justin Staats from Point Pleasant, hope to pursue a career in politics, and Boys State gives them a stepping stone.

I m running for prosecuting attorney in my cabin, Staats said. I have an interest in law going past Boys State. Some campers have found new interests through the instructors and options available at Boys State. Ben Nolte from Buckhannon said that while he originally signed up to work with the camp s bank, he s now running for prosecuting attorney of his cabin.

I passed the bar exam, so that gave me confidence, Nolte said. And I went to the law school Sunday night, which really got me into the entire process.

There are seven career paths available for campers: Political, legal, journalism, banking, law enforcement, National Guard/Homeland Security and office of emergency services. The campers involved in the legal path are given instruction on legal procedures and overviews of the law, explained Brandon Flowers, who has been a counselor for 22 years and has helped with the legal section for around 15 years. Flowers said that while there are mock trials, ranging from criminal cases and arrests to trials and appeals, the campers are also able to have actual trials based on Boys State law.

The Boys State police or DNR can investigate, and they ll have cases based on stuff that happened here, Flowers said.

These cases can apply to real-life situations, such as search and seizure or Miranda rights issues.

The do come up with some crazy stuff sometimes, Flowers said. Someone always wants to impeach the governor, or something that will invariably end up with a lawsuit. Ashley McClure works with campers elected to the Boys State Supreme Court, where she encourages them to think critically.

They ll ask me questions, and it s always fun to allow them to make their own opinions. Initially they re scared and feel out of their depth, but it s all about their opinions and how they come to their opinions, McClure said. We allow them to make those decisions. The campers will also be participating in an inauguration, a talent show, a formal review, a graduation, various speakers and more.

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