Even after arriving there, incoming Wauseon High School senior Matthew Manson wasn’t entirely sold on Buckeye Boys State.
“The first two days were rough. We had a lot of meetings about the election process and policies, and it wasn’t fun,” he said.
Standing four feet, two inches tall, the 17-year-old also worried how his small stature might be perceived by other participants.
“I was kind of overwhelmed. I didn’t know how people would view me,” he said. “They weren’t expecting me to walk through that building. They were expecting an average person.”
The annual Buckeye Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion Department of Ohio, took place June 10-17 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Manson was one of three Fulton County high school students nominated by the Wauseon American Legion to attend. He had no prior knowledge of the event, but after learning of it he decided the experience might be good.
Nominated by Fred Collar, his high school government teacher, and with his paperwork expedited by retired Fulton County Judge James Barber, Manson soon found his niche among the 1,225 high school students who attended BBS from across the state.
According to its vision statement, “Through a practical, objective nonpartisan approach, participants in the American Legion Buckeye Boys State program are exposed to fundamental democratic principles in local, county, and state elections and governmental functions which prepare them for leadership roles as patriotic American citizen.”
What he initially considered a dreary experience perked up for Manson on the third day. A member of BBS’s fictional Federalist political party, he decided to run for municipal court judge against his charismatic roommate within his group’s equally fictional City of Voisard and McQuigg County. He credits his slogan, “I’m 4-2 with an attitude you can’t refuse,” and his speech before his constituents, for his win among about 100 voters.
But first he had to pass a mock bar exam similar to those taken by prospective attorneys. Manson said the third time was the charm.
And while he kept his campaign light and non-aggressive, he was surprised by the fervor of candidates for other positions.
“There were already kids who (had) prepared for years for campaigning for governor the first day,” he said.
For the next four days, Manson conducted his judicial duties in a mock courtroom he set up in a university dormitory room. He was given a handbook spelling out basic Ohio law, and dealt with mock cases that included traffic citations and lawsuits. One involved a perpetrator fleeing from police. Another considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And a third brought on a class action lawsuit against people who had not paid county recorder fees.
“That was fun. The first day I didn’t know what I was doing. But after the first two cases, I got used to it,” Manson said. “I liked the power involved with it. You get to determine people’s fates. I got to throw that gavel down.”
The court sessions lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Manson also attended immitation bar association meetings where he met actual judges and Ohio State Bar Association President Randall Comer. Evenings were reserved for attending arena assemblies with all of the BSS participants.
Manson apparently made an impression. He received the prestigious Outstanding Citizen Award for “Best Municipal Court Judge.”
As for his size, he quickly discovered there was no cause for concern. Some of the friends he made at BBS have begun a group phone chat, and plan to meet for a trip to Bowling Green State University in the future.
“I felt I wouldn’t fit in, but we became family,” he said. “Seven days later, I would walk out of Millett Arena with 36 new friends from all over the state and memories that would last a lifetime. BBS isn’t just a government program but a way to bring boys together to form a brotherhood. And together, my city became a family.”
The Wauseon High School basketball team manager, baseball manager and announcer, and 4-H member said he came away from Buckeye Boys State a changed person.
“It kind of showed me that there are good people in this world who accept each other for what they are, and do not despise you for your differences,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.