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For over thirty years, the Oklahoma American Legion Boys State has operated on the campus of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO). The weeklong camp involves training and activities in leadership, patriotism, and government. This year, over 400 young men selected by their American Legion post gathered on the NEO campus and established a fully functioning government. Director Clay Ballenger attended Boys State 27 years ago on the NEO campus before joining the military and returning to join the American Legion. “I came here twenty-seven years ago as a high school junior,” noted Ballenger. “To be able to serve in the military, come back as a veteran and member of the American Legion, and pass on what I gained from my experience during and after Boys State is really exciting.” Along with in-depth civics education, students can earn college credit hours for attending the camp. Veterans from World War I established the program as they sought to teach young men about patriotism, leadership, and respect for the American Flag. “These vets saw the need to educate students about the importance of God and country, while honoring and understanding the sacrifice that service members made to keep the United State free,” added Ballenger. “The students who attend Boys State are juniors in high school selected by their American Legion posts, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

While the program has operated for nearly eight decades, Oklahoma Boys State has found a home at NEO for thirty-two years. Even though being nestled in the far northeastern corner of Oklahoma may lengthen travel time for some students, Director Ballenger notes that NEO is the perfect location for the program. “We are so fortunate to have NEO and it’s a beautiful campus. The administration has been so supportive for many years and they pretty much turn the campus over to us for the week. While the campus layout accommodates us very well for moving students from building to building, it’s mostly the positive relationship with the administration that keeps us coming back.” “We spent forty-eight years hosting the camp on other large colleges, but there is just no place like NEO.” (Ballenger is the director of Boys State, American Legionnaire, and Afghanistan veteran)

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