The award-winning documentary “Boys State” follows four young men during a week at Texas Boys State in 2018, the year after their predecessors voted to secede from the U.S. That event prompted filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss to make the film, which follows Ben Feinstein, Steven Garza, Robert McDougal and Rene Otero through the program.
Here are 10 things to know about The American Legion’s Boys State program:
1. The first Boys State program was founded in 1935 in Illinois by Legionnaires Hayes Kennedy and Harold Card, in an effort to counter the socialism-inspired Young Pioneer Camps.
2. There are Boys State programs in every state except Hawaii. There are, however, 50 Boys State programs, with a program held each July in the District of Columbia.
3. At Boys State, participants learn government from the township to state level. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments. Operated by students elected to various offices, Boys State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs.
4. While Boys State programs reflect the two-party system, they don’t use “Democrat” and “Republican” designations — many programs divide parties into “Federalists” and “Nationalists.” And it’s up to the participants to decide their party platforms.
5. While the recommended guidelines for Boys State programs suggest that only males who have completed their junior year of high school and have at least one semester of high school remaining should be considered for the program, that doesn’t have to be the case. In a memo to American Legion departments, Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson noted that Public Law 112-66, passed in 2011, amended the Legion’s federal charter so that “American Legion departments possess the authority to establish their own criteria for Boys State program eligibility, selection, participation and operation and should proceed with their respective programs accordingly.”
6. Two delegates from each Boys State program are selected to represent their respective states at American Legion Boys Nation in the Washington, D.C., area each July. The 2021 edition of Boys Nation will be the 75th, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of Boys Nation in 2020.
7. There is no cost to attend Boys State, as expenses are covered by sponsoring American Legion posts, local businesses or other community organizations.
8. With few exceptions, the staff at every Boys State program are unpaid volunteers, giving a week (or more) of their summer to help educate and support Boys Staters.
9. Prominent Boys State alumni include President Bill Clinton; Vice President Dick Cheney; Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Lieberman; basketball legend Michael Jordan; and many more.
10. There is also a Girls State program, sponsored by The American Legion Auxiliary. All 50 states sponsor Girls State programs, and just like their male counterparts, two girls from each program are selected to represent their respective states as senators at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation each July.