- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

Who would have thought that flush toilets one day would get their due as a turning point in history?

Not Beth Wray, until she heard some boys in her class joking about doing a project on toilets for the History Day competition.

"I thought, why not?" she said. "And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made."

Her hunch proved right. The eighth-grader from Nebraska went on to win the county and state-level competitions for her project on the flush toilet and will compete at the three-day National History Day competition starting today at the University of Maryland at College Park.

More than 2,000 students from 48 states and the District of Columbia will compete this year in the contest, which began in 1974. Among the contestants are 40 students from Virginia, 55 from Maryland and 45 from the District.

"A lot of the entries deal with unknown and unusual facts about 60 to 70 percent," said Mark Robinson, a spokesman for the History Day competition.

The subject this year was turning points in history, and students have come up with projects ranging from the topical, such as capital punishment and the development of suburbs, to the cultural, such as the Barbie doll and Twiggy. There are also several projects on more well-documented historic events, including the world wars, the launch of the Soviet satellite sputnik and the bubonic plague.

Students also will present performances, documentaries and papers at the contest, which will give away a $75,000 scholarship to one senior. About 100 more students will take away cash prizes from $500 to $5,000.

Janaiha Nelson, 13, and Desmond Holeman, 14, both students at Hardy Middle School in Georgetown, will pose as dance teachers in a 10-minute performance of tap dance, ballet and hip-hop today.

The performance, they said, is meant to depict how dance proved to be a turning point in the lives of black Americans.

"African-Americans were first recognized as entertainers. They were more equal to whites in that field first than anywhere else," Janaiha said.

Aaron Sidorov and Ben Kaufman, both students at Julius West Middle School in Rockville, Md., turned to sports for their spin on the turning point for blacks Jackie Robinson becoming the first black player in baseball's major leagues.

"We are both great fans of baseball and we really wanted people to know how Jackie Robinson shaped the future of African-Americans in this country by breaking the color barrier," Ben, 12, said.

For their research, the boys went on the Internet, sourcing information from the Jackie Robinson Society, including rare photographs that form part of their display.

Davide Carozza and Michael Newman, both seventh-graders at Alice Deal Junior High in Northwest, spent months in the National Archives collecting tidbits on the history of the District as seen through the life of one man Alexander Robey "Boss" Shepherd, the last governor of the District and president of the city's Department of Public Works late in the 19th century.

Time was when the District was considered an unfit place for women and children to live because "the roads were muddy and conditions were just too bad," said Michael, 12, adding that Shepherd changed a lot of that.

"He had the roads paved and 5,000 gas lamps put up," he said. On the other hand, Davide pointed out, Shepherd did "a fast and furious job… . He didn't have receipts for the millions he spent and it all seemed part of a well-organized crime."

"We found interesting parallels in his life and Marion Barry's," he added with a laugh.

Jamie Thompson and Allison Gorky of Julius West Middle School interviewed disc jockey Dave Adler of WBIG-FM for their project on the Beatles.

"Something really interesting we learned was that everyone thought they were not going to stay and they changed history," Allison, 12, said.

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