The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable at the 2024 National History Day

By Steve Pettyjohn
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

On March 2, 2024, the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable participated in the 50th annual National History Day Region 3 competition by sponsoring special awards for projects that dealt with a Civil War-era topic. The theme for projects in 2024 was “Turning Points in History.” This was certainly an apt theme for projects regarding the Civil War.

Founded in Cleveland in 1974, National History Day is a project-based learning experience for students in grades 6-12 that builds college and career skills for the 21st century by making the historical past relevant to the present and the future. To participate, students first choose topics that relate to the yearly theme, then conduct research into the topic, and lastly prepare their findings as a project. The project may be a paper, exhibit, documentary, website, or performance. For the final phase of the competition, the students present their projects at the Region 3 National History Day, where the projects are evaluated by volunteer judges. The top projects advance to represent Region 3 (Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, and Summit counties) in a state-wide competition. Winners at state move on to compete at the national competition, where the top prize remains a four-year scholarship to Case Western Reserve University.

This year, through the leadership of Steve Pettyjohn, the Roundtable participated as a special prize sponsor for Civil War-related projects. We awarded prizes in the following three categories: documentary, junior division exhibit, and senior division exhibit. The winners of each of these categories received a medal which reads: THE CLEVELAND CIVIL WAR ROUNDTABLE AWARD, BEST CIVIL WAR EXIBIT 2024. In addition to the medal, the winner in each category was awarded an American flag that flew over the Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Presidents Day this year. As with the flags that we present to our speakers each month, these flags were in a display case and were accompanied by a certificate. The flags are intended to go back to the schools to be displayed in their history classrooms. Lastly, each category was presented with a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant (on a $50 bill). Frank O’Grady, a teacher at St. Brendan School and a member of the Roundtable, has been a long-time participant in National History Day, and he helped guide us through the initial path to participating in this event by connecting us with the organization’s coordinator and providing training for our judges.

The winners of the Civil War special prizes and their topics were as follows. Stephen Toth, a 6th grader at St. Brendan School, was the winner of the documentary. The title of Stephen’s project was “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: The Turning Point of the Civil War.” Landon Adams and Scarlet Davis, 8th graders at St. Brendan School, were the winners of the junior division exhibit. The title of their project was “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: The Turning Point of the Civil War.” Alexa Adams, Alicia Kiefer, and Mariah Horvath, sophomores at Lutheran High School West, were the winners of the senior division exhibit. The title of their project was “Charting Sojourner’s Legacy.”

The Roundtable is grateful to all of the members who volunteered to help judge the Civil War projects. These volunteers were Steve Pettyjohn, Dennis Keating, Gary Taylor, John Syroney, Jake Collens, and Bob Pence. Kent Fonner also volunteered to help with the judging of the Civil War projects, but on arrival Kent was called up to “the big leagues” to be a judge in the overall Region 3 competition. Other members of the Roundtable who participated as judges in the overall Region 3 competition were Rich Hronek, Ed Chuhna, William Vodrey, and Garry Regan. Ellen Connally was also in attendance, and Frank O’Grady was there supporting his students. It was a very nice event, and the students did a fabulous job.

National History Day was founded in Cleveland in 1974 and is now a truly national event. We hope to be back supporting our Region 3 competition next year. The 2025 theme will be “Rights and Responsibilities,” which should spawn several very interesting Civil War-era entries.

Stephen Toth receiving an award for his documentary
Landon Adams and Scarlet Davis receiving an award for their exhibit
Alexa Adams, Alicia Kiefer, and Mariah Horvath with their exhibit