Zach Slichta was one of 12 Cornwall Middle School students to represent the district in the state National History Day competition on April 24, but he was the only one to walk away with a medal. Slichta placed third in the Junior Division, taking home a bronze medal.
“It feels great,” Slichta said. “I was actually really surprised. I am disappointed I didn’t get first or second but I was so surprised at the moment and so happy that I did place.”
Slichta entered the competition, first regionals then states, with his web site on the stand for black power Tommie Smith and John Carlos took during the 1968 Olympics.
“The revolt of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was a stand in history that shook the world,” Slichta wrote. “In a time of unrest in the U.S. and after the recent assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., these two men protested at the perfect time. With millions watching the Olympics across the world, this protest was in a perfect place as well.”
To come up with the idea, Slichta took particular interest in one of the historical photos his social studies teacher, Jeff Danzer, has hanging in the eighth grade wing of the school.
The photo in question shows the two athletes on the medal stand – Smith with his right arm, and Carlos with his left, raised in the air. Both raised hands forming a fist.
Danzer explained the significance of the photo and then Slichta went home to conduct more research. He realized he enjoyed learning more about the duo, and chose them as the focus of his project.
Slichta then decided to create a web site because he had never made one before.
The eighth grader estimates he spent about 100 hours, over the course of about six months, conducting research and then another 20 or more creating the web site.
At the regional competition, Slichta took first, but due to a change in the competition, he was competing against his own schoolmates. At the time, the judges offered little feedback, which made it somewhat difficult for Slichta to make improvements to the web site. Danzer did suggest adding quotes and a video.
Following states, Slichta said he still wants to touch up the web site, just in case the first or second place finishers aren’t able to attend the national competition. Mostly the changes would entail shortening the video.
Slichta also plans to research ideas for next year’s competition, the theme of which will be “Conflict and Compromise.” He hopes to propose an idea to Danzer and begin working on his project over the summer. Slichta has his sights set on nationals next year.