Unique display wins state history day contest

John Ford

Take a little research, add some home-grown ingenuity, and what do you have?

For Zach Aldrich, a seventh-grader at Neosho Middle School, you have a history display that took home first place honors in both the area and state history day competitions.

Aldrich, the son of Mike and Cindy Aldrich of Neosho, recently won the junior individual exhibit of the National History Day in Missouri competition in Missouri, sponsored by the State Historical Society of Missouri and the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, Columbia, University of Missouri.

His winning exhibit was on events in Alexandria, Va., in 1971 at the recently desegregated T.C. Williams High School. These events were the basis of the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington.

“Last year, when they came up with the competition theme ‘Conflict and Compromise,’ I decided I’d do something on ‘Remember the Titans,’ ” Aldrich said.

In 1971, a black man, Herman Boone, was hired as the head football coach at the recently integrated school over a popular white football coach, Bill Yoast, who decided to stay on as assistant coach at Boone’s urging. Meanwhile, white and black players clash in racially motivated conflicts. Two players who at first could not stand each other end up becoming fast friends.

Aldrich, a fan of the movie, began researching the events that served as the movie’s basis. With the help of a librarian in Alexandria, he discovered old newspaper clippings and yearbook photos of the players to use in his display.

In place of the traditional tri-fold display board, Aldrich uses life-size wooden cutouts of football players — one painted white, the other black. For players’ faces, he used photographs of actual Neosho High School players Addison Rainwater and Richard Love Jr., both of whom are students in Cindy Aldrich’s class at NHS.

One side of the display board features frowning faces and is labeled “conflict.” It has news articles and other information detailing the problems of integrating Alexandria’s two white high schools and one black high school into one school.

The other side, labeled “compromise” depicts the players smiling amid news stories detailing the team’s unity. Intermixed with these stories and photos are quotes from actual members of the 1971 squad he was able to contact through a Web site.

“I was able to e-mail some of the players from that team, and visited with four of them,” Aldrich said. “I got some direct quotes from the players at the time.”

Aldrich used these quotes as pullouts on the display, as he was limited to just a 500 word description of his display.

The wooden cutouts are mounted upright on a large wooden platform, painted green to represent a football field.

Aldrich said the display is interactive. A large crank sticks up from the field and flips the two sides of the display as it is turned. The crank is made from old bicycle sprockets welded onto a metal frame, with a bicycle chain attached in between the sprockets to drive the mechanism.

“His dad supervised the welding and running the table saw,” said Cindy Aldrich. “But he did all of the work himself.”

Mike Aldrich teaches vocational agriculture at Neosho High School.

The display first captured area honors at Missouri Southern State University’s History Day competition on March 7. Then, last Saturday, Aldrich took home first place in his division at the National History Day in Missouri.

For now, the display has a home in Cindy Aldrich’s classroom. But soon, Zach Aldrich will take it to the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., outside of Washington, D.C., in June to compete in the National History Day competition.

Aldrich is a student in Julie Hulley’s enrichment class at Neosho Middle School.

Neosho Daily News