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Bemidji-area students delve into the past

Cass Lake-Bena students Baylie Brown and Dominic Fairbanks talk about their Billy Mills project at the Northwest Regional History Day Competition on Tuesday at BSU. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Judges view projects during the Northwest Regional History Day Competition on Tuesday at BSU. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—Have you heard of Billy Mills?

Nearly 100 Bemidji-area students spent weeks or months diving into the lives of more than 50 famous historical figures, movements and more for History Day, the annual research project competition between 6-12 graders across the United States. Their work was judged Tuesday at a regional competition at BSU.

Cass Lake-Bena middle schoolers Baylie Brown and Dominic Fairbanks put together a research paper and poster board about Mills, the Oglala Lakota distance runner who burst from relative obscurity to win a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics.

The theme for this year's competition was "tragedy and triumph," and Brown and Fairbanks found that Mills overcame racial discrimination and the death of his parents at a young age to earn a gold medal.

"The tragedy was that, as Native Americans that are in sports, you don't get treated the same as others," Brown explained. "Triumph is that he won the Olympic gold medal, and it just shows that no matter what color your skin is, that you can make it far."

They interviewed Mills, who's now 80, over the phone, too—a rarity, given how deeply into the past some students' projects went. Mills said he felt the presence of his father during his race and while he spoke with Brown and Fairbanks, they reported.

Nearby, CL-B freshmen Taylor Dahl and Francisco Ortega put together a similar project about the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of Navajo U.S. Marines who relayed messages coded in their native tongue during World War II. The coded messages, Dahl and Ortega discovered, were "unbreakable."

But those were far from the only exhibits. Other students focused on notorious serial killers like H.H. Holmes, who murdered a series of young women during Chicago's rise to national prominence, or turning-point battles such as the D-Day invasion of World War II, or mythological figures like Santa Claus.

Tuesday's winners will advance to the state-level History Day in early May at the University of Minnesota. Winners there will head to National History Day in Washington, D.C., in June.

Here's a list of area students who qualified for the state competition:

• "The Triumph and Tragedy of D-Day" by Ben Rudnicki and Colt Poxleitner, Blackduck Public Schools

• "The Impact of the Book: Women in the Nineteenth Century by Sarah Margaret Ossoli" by Kayleigh Horn, Northland Community Schools

• "The International Space Station; Triumph in the Midst of War" by Micah Bernard, Bernard Homeschool

• "HH Holmes: Serial Killer" by Emily Mellen, Bemidji Middle School

• "Boeing" by Hunter Bowley, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "Vietnam Survivor from Hamburger Hill: Russell Sexton" by Alynza Welk, Northland Community Schools

• "A Triumph for Tribal Control" by Josh Kingbird, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "West Side Story" by Mackenzie Stoebner, Tianna Jones, and Taryn Frazer, Cass Lake-Bena High School

• "Nazi Medical Experiments" by Josh O'Leary, Bemidji Middle School

• "Vietnam: Returning Home" by Mackenzie Halse and Abigail Olson, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "Magic Johnson" by Cade Beaulieu and Baylee Chaboyea, Red Lake Middle School

• "Sophie Scholl" by Alyssa Wright, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill" by Matthew Bernard, Bernard Homeschool

• "Joseph Lister" by Aalydia Jones, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "Angels of Bataan" by Sadie Stroeing, Blackduck Public Schools

• "Red Cloud's War" by Helainea Roybal, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "Amelia Dyer" by Mickiah Staples Larose, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "The Tragedy and Triumph of Harriet Tubman" by Payton Goodman-Thunder, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "Dr. Martha George Ripley" by Adrianna Cruz-Bautista and Grace Graves, Red Lake Middle School

• "A Step Towards Equality" by Emily Reynolds and Staar Rainey, Red Lake Middle School

• "Billy Mills" by Bailey Brown and Dominic Staples Fairbanks, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "Occupation of Alcatraz" by Rhozaria McClainand Kylah Villiard, Red Lake Middle School

• "The Triumph and Tragedy of Tisquantum (Squanto)" by Gavin Waller and Matthew Hanson, Blackduck Public Schools

• "The History of Santa Claus" by Addison Johnson and Landon White, Northland Community Schools

• "Navajo Code Talkers" by Gaven Brown and Keon Wheeler, Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• "The Tragedy and Triumph of the Dawes Act of 1887" by Rozalina Hunt-Morris, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "Van Gogh" by Cecelia Meat, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "The Epidemic Behind the AIDS Quilt" by Nikita Vincent, Bagley Jr. Sr. High School

• "Native American Path to Citizenship" by Katrina Ducheneaux, Bug O Nay Ge Shig School

• "Troy Fell, Rome Fell, Leningrad did not Fall" by Sydnee Stroeing, Blackduck Public Schools

• "The Price of Manifest Destiny" by Samuel Scherzer and Tristan McCoy, Bagley Jr. Sr. High School

• "White Earth" by Chi-Noodin Oliver, James Hvezda and Marcus Stevens, Bagley Jr. Sr. High School

• "Out of the Ashes" by Kaylin Sunderland, Atlanta Leines and Hannah Johnshoy, Bagley Jr. Sr. High School

• "Navajo Code Talkers" by Taylor Dahl, Carlos White and Francisco Ortega, Cass Lake-Bena High School

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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