GOODLETTSVILLE, Tennessee –Aryan Burns, a senior at Lincoln County High School, won the 2019 Tennessee Star Constitution Bee Individual Grand Championship on Saturday.
The third annual Tennessee Star Constitution Bee was hosted by Metro Christian Academy.
Burns, who finished in second place in last year’s Bee, was awarded the $3,000 Andrew Woodfin Miller Foundation Scholarship by the Polk Foundation, which has been a sponsor of the event since its inception in 2017.
With his first place finish, Burns also won an all expenses paid trip for two to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of events of his choosing.
Burns told The Tennessee Star he will be attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the fall and plans on majoring in biology.
Second place winner Joseph Selmer, a freshman from Stewart County High School – and just 15 years old – received a $1,000 scholarship from the Andrew Woodfin Miller Foundation.
Cooper Moran, last year’s champion, stopped by at this year’s Constitution Bee to deliver opening comments and words of encouragement to the contestants.
As reported by The Star, during his all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. last year as part of his Constitution Bee winnings, Cooper Moran met with then U.S. Representatives Diane Black (R-TN-06) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) and witnessed history in the making as he saw Vice President Mike Pence escort U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the Capitol as he was being introduced to Senators who would be voting up or down on his confirmation.
Moran noted that he shook hands with Kavanaugh as he walked through the Capitol.
Students came from across the state. Stewart County High School had eight participants, Metro Christian Academy had five participants, and Tennessee Volunteer Challenge Academy had five participants. Two home schoolers participated, along with one student each from Lincoln County High School, Franklin Road Academy, and Brentwood Middle School.
Stewart County High School won first place in the high school team championship.
The competition was judged by Polk Foundation President Michael Sheppard and Claudia Henneberry, former social studies teacher and co-author of The Tennessee Star Guide to the Constitution and Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students.
For the second consecutive year, Norman Bobo ran the audio visual portion of the program, which included the display of each question on a large screen for all the contestants and audience to see.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance led by Henneberry, the event started with a Preamble Challenge – a warm-up round of sorts – where the 57-word Preamble to the Constitution is delivered in whatever method the participant chooses.
The judges awarded three prizes for the Preamble Challenge. Elleigh Shepperd of Stewart County won “The Most Persuasive Preamble,” Jacob Campbell of Metro Christian Academy won “The Most Entertaining Preamble,” and Alexis Solokoff won “The Most Persuasive Preamble.”
In addition to the record-setting number of participants, the Preamble Challenge set a number of firsts, which included versions that were interpretive, delivered in Spanish, delivered simultaneously verbally and in American Sign Language, rapped – one as an individual and another with two classmates, and one sung interpretively with an electric guitar accompaniment.
If a participant failed to answer a question correctly, they were out of the competition temporarily, until the redemption round. At that point, by answering a question correctly, the participant could re-enter the competition until the next incorrect answer was given.
After that, an incorrect response would send the participant to “The Friends of the Court Bench.”
Simultaneous to the individual competition, there was also a school competition. Schools got points for the total number of participating students, winning any prize in the Preamble Challenge, correctly answering questions from “The Friends of the Court Bench,” and placing first, second or third in the individual competition.
At the end of Round 8, seven remaining competitors advanced to the Essay Round: Aryan Burns of Lincoln County High School; Eden Couts of Metro Christian Academy; Alexia Appleton, Joseph Semler and Elleigh Shepherd of Stewart County High School; and, Sloan Hoesel of Brentwood Middle School
For the Essay Round, each participant was asked a more conceptual question about the U.S. Constitution and given several minutes to develop their response. Contestants could write notes and use them to deliver their three to five minute response before the judges.
The judges selected three contestants from the seven competing in the Essay Round to participate in the final “sudden death” championship round: Aryan Burns, Joseph Semler, and Alexia Appleton.
For seven rounds of questions in the final championship round it appeared that the contest might continue for some time, as all three finalists answered the questions posed to them accurately.
When Alexia Appleton missed a question in the 8th round of the championship round, it came down to Aryan Burns and Joseph Semler.
Each answered questions correctly for the next three rounds.
In the 12th round, Semler answered incorrectly. With the pressure on, Burns answered his question correctly, thereby winning the individual competition.
As in previous years, every contestant received a certificate of participation.
The fourth annual Tennessee Star Constitution Bee will be held in Franklin, Tennessee a year from now in April 2020. Three additional states are expected to hold Bees that same month–The Ohio Star Constitution Bee, The Michigan Star Constitution Bee, and The Minnesota Sun Constitution Bee.
The top finishers from these four states, along with at-large contestants from around the country, will be invited to participate in the first annual Star News Digital Media National Constitution Bee, which will be held in Franklin, Tennessee in May 2020.
The Tennessee Star, The Ohio Star, The Minnesota Sun, and the soon to be launched Michigan Star are all owned by Nashville based Star News Digital Media, Inc.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.