From Rosie the Riveter to the Beatles, five Utah students have become young history buffs and the kids have the prizes to show for it.
The Utah students placed high out of half a million entries in the 29th annual National History Day contest. It is based in Maryland and open to students in grades six through 12.
Zara Zemmels, a 10th-grader at West High School during the past school year, took first in the nation for the senior category of individual performance. Her topic was music censorship. She won $1,000 cash and is eligible for a two-year full-tuition scholarship to Utah State University.
The other four winners are:
• Amelia Weixler, going into ninth grade, West High, junior individual performance on Rosie the Riveter, ninth in nation in her category, eligible for two-year full-tuition scholarship to USU, also special award: "Outstanding Entries for Utah," junior division;
• Kaden Groves, eighth grade, American Fork Junior High, junior individual documentary on American Indian conflict with white settlers in Jamestown, Va., 13th in nation in his category, awarded a $5,000 cash prize: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Early American History;
• Julia Stock, 10th grade, and Johnathon Stock, sixth grade, LIGHT Educational Co-op home school in Sandy, senior group exhibit on conflict in the Middle East, seventh in nation in their category. Each is eligible for a two-year full-tuition scholarship to USU, and special prize: "Outstanding Entries for Utah," for the senior division;
• Haley Parker, a graduate of San Juan High School, senior division historical paper on Utah uranium mining, 12th in nation in her category, and $1,000 cash award: the Best in Utah History, from the Utah State Historical Society.
Zemmels and Weixler, who are former students of Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake School District, presented their studies for their alma mater's summer school classes this week.
"This is an example of being the best you can be," Bryant Middle School Principal Frances Battle told the audience.
For her performance Zemmels, decked out in a costume including black leather pants and red heels, led the audience through a historical review of how music has been censored through the decades.
Tidbits included The Doors refusing to censor themselves on the 1960s Ed Sullivan Show. The band, when performing "Light My Fire," was told to find a different word than "higher." They didn't.
Zemmels detailed other cases of attempted censorship with bands such as Peter, Paul and Mary for their song "Puff the Magic Dragon." From there, punk rock and heavy metal were targeted by groups such as the Parents' Music Resource Center, resulting in parental advisory labels.
The teen interspersed her dialogue by performing parts of lyrics, belting out the songs while strumming on her deep-purple electric guitar.
Zemmels said she came up with the topic of music censorship when she was doing volunteer work for a youth radio program on the local station KRCL 90.9 FM. There she learned about Federal Communications Commission guidelines, which include not airing music with obscene words.
When she first began her project she was adamantly against music censorship, Zemmels said. But having researched both sides, the teen says "right now I'm kind of in the middle," adding there are valid arguments on both sides.
Her research included books, music, data on related legal battles and even interviews with local radio disc jockeys, including Bill Allred from the radio station X-96 (96.3 FM).
Weixler said her project evolved after she saw a poster of Rosie the Riveter and began to wonder what it meant. For her performance, she wrapped her hair up in a red kerchief with white polka dots and donned a black jumpsuit. Speaking as a worker in an aircraft factory, she detailed her feelings on her new patriotic job. Her dialogue was peppered with facts and statistics, such as: 16 million women were in the American work force in 1943.
For part of her performance Weixler took the role of a black female worker who was speaking out in protest of discriminatory workplace practices, such as less pay and fewer privileges.
Background to her dialogue included the 1940s song "Rosie the Riveter" and the sounds of rivet guns.
Weixler said she learned the wartime actions "pushed the boundaries for what women could do and where women could work."
She added, "Now you see women who are engineers."
For her research, Weixler even interviewed some women who were riveters during World War II. "The nation will never be how it was before the war," she said.
Groves spent 150 hours researching Bacon's Rebellion for his documentary. It can be viewed at bacons rebellionmovie.blogspot.com/
It's a tale of conflict between Nathaniel Bacon and the governor, also involving American Indians, in Jamestown, Va. With his $5,000 prize, Groves said he plans to buy a basketball standard and a new television set for his family. He also aims to give some money to historical foundations that helped with his research.
This year's National History Day contest theme was "Conflict and Compromise in History." NHD isn't on a specific day but lasts all year. The final competition was last week in College Park, Md.
The goal of the contest is to "motivate kids to discover and foster a passion for history," said NHD spokesman Noah Shaw.
The theme for the upcoming school year is "The Individual in History." For more information, or to view presentations to be posted soon, visit www.nationalhistoryday.org/.USU is one of several co-sponsors for the statewide history contest, which was April 16. For information, go to history.utah.gov/.