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Local students participate in Tennessee History Day competition at Tusculum University
November 29, 2023

GREENEVILLE, TN – Local high school and middle school students demonstrated their research and presentations skills during the annual Tennessee History Day competition at Tusculum University.

tennessee history day competition participants
Competition participants in Tennessee History Day; image courtesy of Tusculum

GREENEVILLE, TN – Local high school and middle school students demonstrated their research and presentations skills during the annual Tennessee History Day competition at Tusculum University

Thirty-four students from Cosby High School, Greeneville High School, South Greene High School and Cosby Elementary School participated this year. They competed in the categories of documentaries, exhibits, papers, performance and websites, with judging by Tusculum faculty, staff and alumni as well as community members who work in museums and historical agencies in the region.

Tennessee History Day is a yearlong program for students in grades 6-12 that engages educators and students to improve the teaching and learning of history in public, private and home schools.

“It’s a fun event,” said Dr. Peter Noll, professor of public history and museum studies, who organized the Tusculum support team for this event. “I enjoy the interaction with the students coming to a university. They are excited for that and have the opportunity to interact with many people from Tusculum and the museum and history professions. It’s nice to see these students and share that experience and the historical resources on campus with them.”

Participants enjoyed learning about the university’s historic book collection while Tusculum student Samantha Nelson practiced her Latin translation from some of the oldest texts. They also visited the Doak House Museum, another historic building located on campus.

During the event, Tusculum named one of the participants, Angelina Gonzalez, as the winner of the Don Sexton Historical Research Award. This junior from Cosby High School was selected for her paper “The Forgotten Rebellion of Puerto Rico: The Cry of Lares.”

This honor goes to a student who shows excellence in the use of primary source materials. The recipient earns a $2,000 annual scholarship -- $8,000 total during that person’s four years – to Tusculum if he or she enrolls at the university. The winner is not obligated to pursue a history major but would have the opportunity to participate in a robust and fun academic program if he or she chooses that field of study.

Dr. Donal Sexton was a history professor, who served at Tusculum for 40 years and passed away Aug. 13, 2022. Among his many distinctions were holding the Janet Anderson Lunstedt Professorship and co-authoring the bicentennial university history “Glimpses of Tusculum” in 1994. In retirement, he served as faculty marshal at graduations in a ceremonial role. Tusculum recognized his contributions by planting a tree in his memory in August.

“It is an honor to have this award named after my father,” said Allison Snyder, Dr. Sexton’s daughter. “Tusculum was such an integral part of our family. I hope the scholarship encourages students to pursue a history degree at Tusculum.”

A large number of Friday’s winners came from Cosby High School. Hillery Griffin, who teaches world history at Cosby High School and American history for dual enrollment students, has participated in the competition since 2012.

“This is such a good experience for them to learn how to do research, how to present their research and even having to defend their research in the judges’ interviews,” she said. “They will have to do that in college. It allows them to become an expert in a particular topic that they find interesting. They also get the tour of the college campus. My son has traveled with us, and now he wants to go to Tusculum and won’t even consider anyplace else.”

Griffin said her students begin work on their projects the first week of August. They start with an encyclopedia article to provide them with helpful background research on their subject. She teaches them to use the Tennessee electronic library and to find scholarly articles. They also look at Chronicling America, a database of historic newspapers. She requires them to use so many primary sources. Her hope is the students gain an appreciation for the job of a historian through their work on this project.

Even if some of these students do not choose history as their career, Tusculum hopes they will emerge from this competition and their classwork as more engaged citizens and consider their present lives based on their study of the past, Dr. Noll said.

“This competition is great preparation for their academic pursuits after high school,” Dr. Noll said. “It’s a good experience to have their work for this competition critiqued in a helpful way from judges who are competent in their fields and are interested in mentoring these skillsets.”

The first and second place winners of this district competition qualify for the regional competition in Knoxville. The third place winners are alternates.

Here is the list of winners, with their name, school and project title:

Senior Individual Website
• First place – John Massey, Cosby High School; “Radio: Turning Communications Global”
• Second place – Reese Ottinger, South Greene High School; “Grass to Gas: Turning Points in Agricultural History”

Senior Individual Exhibit
• First place – Claire Holt, Cosby High School; “Florence Nightingale”
• Second place – AuBree Hall, Cosby High School; “The Monroe Effect”
• Third place – Keith Frye, Cosby High School; “Military Technology and Its Turning Point on World War I”

Senior Group Exhibit
• First place – Robert Batton and Junior Shelton, Cosby High School; “The Manhattan Project”
• Second place – Jace Baxter, Cyler Davis and Ava Krawczyk, Cosby High School; “Henry Ford: Inventor, Innovator, Creator”
• Third place – Abigail Stokely and Alexa Street, Cosby High School; “Theodore Roosevelt”

Senior Individual Documentary
• First place – Amelia Hefner, Cosby High School; “The_Bombing_of_Pearl_Harbor_America’s_Turn_Towards_War”

Senior Group Website
• First place – Brooke Freeman and Alexis McCarter, Cosby High School; “The Revival of the Pigeon River”
• Second place – Christian Rymer and Addison Woods, Cosby High School; “Apollo 11: The Landing That Changed America”

Senior Group Performance
• First place – River Bessey and Katie Murray, Cosby High School; “Eleanor Roosevelt: The First First Lady”

Senior Group Documentary
• First place – Madylyn Bible and Shylee Shelton, Cosby High School; “Pat Summitt”
• Second place – Maybry Ball, Daniel Black and Annalise Luster, Cosby High School; “1983: The Year Computers Became Necessary for Education”

Junior Individual Documentary
• First place – Cayton Griffin, Cosby Elementary School; “Tanner School: A Symbol of Changing Opportunity in East Tennessee”

Senior Individual Paper
• First place – Angelina Gonzalez, Cosby High School; “The Forgotten Rebellion of Puerto Rico: The Cry of Lares”
• Second place – Chloey Conard, Cosby High School; “The Stonewall Riots: The Spark of a Revolutionary and Controversial Movement”
• Third place – Reagan Smith, Greeneville High School; “The Emancipator: The United States’ First Abolitionist Newspaper”

More information about Tennessee History Day is available here. To learn more about the university, please visit

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