Five San Diego-area seventh-grade students, telling the story of the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic team, have won a national history contest -- keeping the story alive of the team that never got to compete at the Games because of boycott. "We are so excited," their teacher, 28-year-old Hillary Gaddis, said Thursday, after the young people from the Day-McKellar Preparatory School in La Mesa, Calif. had won it all in the "Kenneth E. Behring National History Day" contest at the University of Maryland, adding, "We did it. We got the gold medal -- it was incredible."
Craig Beardsley, a swimmer on the 1980 team, was among those in the audience, she said. He had planned to stay for the preliminary round of the competition but was so taken he stayed for the finals, she said.
John Moffet, another 1980 swimmer, was also on hand, filming the contest for a documentary he has in the works about the boycott.
The contest wrapped up a year-long project that saw the Day-McKellar students advance through local and regional rounds. Along they way, they did 32 primary-source interviews and scored a controversial letter from President Jimmy Carter.
"When we started this, we didn't know where it could go," Gaddis, 28, said. "Going into it, it was just this project. Look at what this has turned into."
Indeed. Here, in their own words, is what it was like and what it means:
Thomas Day, 12 years old: "It was unbelievable. First they called out third place. We weren't announced. They called out second place. We weren't announced. It was in the [Maryland] basketball arena. They called out the name of our production. They called out our names. I yelled, yeah! The girls screamed."
Nick Young, 13: "One of the highlights was preparing and getting all the way to nationals and competing, all the things we did on the way there. I think I'm going to take away from this experience a wider spectrum of seeing things."
Mikela Chatfield, 12: "It was our first time ever performing for that big an audience -- I was just excited to be representing our school. It was definitely worth it. It has just been amazing -- everyone who has helped us."
Maxwell Major, 13: "I thought they were going from first place down. I thought I heard 'first' when they were doing 'third' and I was almost devastated. When I heard our names I was so excited but even though I had seen this coming I shot out of my seat and was cheering like crazy and was running straight for the podium."
Alfreda Shelton, 11: "I think I will remember how much work we put into this project and how close I got to my team members -- winning and becoming the best in the nation. And I think people should remember that the athletes gave up their dreams."