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June 22, 2011

Boys State and Helmet Laws

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Now how’s that for a combination. Allow me to explain. Today I will be part of a team, at the annual, weeklong American Legion Boys State 2011 citizenship-training event at McDaniel College, facilitating a discussion on the pros and cons of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.


Perhaps when Dr. Herb Smith, my former political science professor at McDaniel, first asked me if I could once again participate in helping out at Boys State, I should have run for the hills or asked for second prize.


However, I cannot turn Dr. Smith down. Not only was he an invaluable professor for a number of great classes at McDaniel, then Western Maryland College, he has since become a good friend and colleague along the way.


I’m looking forward to participating in Boys State. I have been asked to help off-and-on for years. I’m in good company – with the likes of Maryland State Sens. Joe Getty (R., Carroll/Baltimore Co.) and David Brinkley (R., Frederick/Carroll).


The first Boys State “was held at the Illinois Fair Grounds in June 1935. At that time, the impetus was to establish a program for young adults to “combat the inroads being started by the youth organizations of the Nazi and Soviet friendship groups here in the U.S.A.,” according to an old Boys State brochure in my files.


The first program in Maryland took place at Fort Meade in June 1947 and “had 36 boys enrolled.”


My old brochure explains that Boys State is an “objective citizenship training school (for) young leaders to gain a valid concept of the operations, ideals, functions, and goals of government.”


The program developed “from an idea that youth should be offered a better perspective of the practical operations of government, that an individual is an integral part of, and commensurately responsible for, the character and success of government.”


Boys State in Maryland later moved to the U.S. Naval Academy where Senator Getty attended. In an email Senator Getty remarked: “I attended Boy’s State as a senior at North Carroll High School – at that time, it was held at the U.S. Naval Academy and over 1,000 high school seniors attended – it was an excellent leadership program and attracted the leading elected officials throughout the state who would come and address the students.”


The program moved to McDaniel in 1986, where it has been held ever since.


Senator Getty also explained that he has “participated in the legislative simulation at McDaniel for most of the last 15 years beginning when he was a member of the House of Delegates.


“Boy’s State provides a great opportunity for young leaders to meet their peers from across the state and learn about state government. The legislative component offers a realistic view of government because, as the students debate current issues before the Maryland General Assembly, they learn about the diversity of opinions from their own generation.


“Moreover, while these students may have a firm position on an issue, they learn that rarely are issues drawn in black and white but instead the art of passing legislation involves compromise somewhere in the shades of gray for the issue.”


And I guess it is “the art of passing legislation involves compromise somewhere in the shades of gray for the issue,” mentioned by Senator Getty in which I will be discussing the helmet issue with the young future leaders. My experience is that any discussion of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws is a barnburner.


It is fraught with heated debates about the creeping “Nanny State” and its thunderous collision with individual freedoms and rights and often the anti-helmet law proponents take no prisoners.


As fate would have it, it is this very intersection of political views and human tragedy that is in the forefront of several recent articles by writer Steve Berryman.


On June 17, Mr. Berryman wrote in the Frederick News-Post about the injuries received by a family friend, when “Alex ‘Big Al’ Bodroghy's life changed in an instant,” as a result of an accident. “The scooter was a mangled mess; no helmet had been worn… Al suffered severe head trauma…”


If you dared to read the characteristically unpleasant comments, at a moment of human tragedy and family grief, undaunted trolls of the Internet collided with human decency and the conversation quickly disintegrated over Mr. Berryman’s thought-provoking remark, “Should we re-evaluate helmet laws for motor scooters? I believe so.”


Then, last Monday, on, Mr. Berryman touched lightly upon the matter of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws with “Promised to No Man.”


Mr. Berryman wrote, “In this column, I made a passing reference to helmet laws, as they would surely have impacted a still yet to be determined medical outcome. I was astonished by the number of people leaving comments on the column in the paper’s online version and on Facebook concerned with the civil liberties aspects therein.


“Should a government be in the business of “saving people from themselves,” as my friend Clint Brown pointed up? Arguably, if the costs of medical treatment are shifted onto the public sector at some point of financial exasperation, then probably so. However, this topic is for a future column…”


Mr. Berryman raises the issues quite well. I’m looking forward to hearing the views of our future leaders at Boys State. Meanwhile, one may only be sure that mandatory motorcycle laws will be the topic of many future vitriolic discussions and columns.


As for my own opinion; I’m quite conflicted. Although I could argue both points of view as to whether or not the state should require motorcyclists to wear a helmet for the greater public good; one thing I do know for sure is that wearing a helmet is a really good idea for anyone engaged in discussing the issue.


. . . . I’m just saying…


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