Soroco's Watwood heads to D.C. for Boys Nation

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— Apparently, magic tricks make a pretty good first impression.

Card tricks endeared Matt Watwood, a rising senior at Soroco High School, to the more than 100 other participants June 7 to 13 at Colorado Boys State on the Colorado State University campus in Pueblo.

"They're the greatest ice breaker in pretty much everything I do," the 17-year-old Watwood said.

He was selected as one of two senators who will represent Colorado at Boys Nation from July 17 to 25 in Washington, D.C.

Boys State is a weeklong program that gives boys who just finished their junior year of high school hands-on experience with how government functions at city, county and state levels, said Bruce Sigler, chairman of Boys State for American Legion Post 189 in Yampa.

To be accepted, interested students have to apply by writing a letter that includes why they want to be involved in the program. They also must demonstrate leadership skills, goals and service to their communities.

The governments are operated by the students who are elected to different positions within city and county governments and at the state level with a governor, lieutenant governor and two senators.

"As far as we know, Matt is the only Boys State representative that we've sent from Routt County who has been named a senator," Sigler said.

American Legion posts have sent high school students to Boys State since 1935, according to the American Legion Web site. It said the program is now held in 49 states across the country, with Hawaii being the lone state that doesn't participate.

Having taken just one government class in high school and not knowing much about how government works, Watwood said he thought attending Boys State would be a good way to learn. He said he didn't approach the program intending to campaign for one of the senate spots but realized his experience with government was similar to that of the other students.

Soon he became the "magic guy." Watwood said his name wasn't mentioned when it was announced he was elected as one of the senators.

"They said, 'I hope you bring some magic to D.C.,'" he said. "The crowd cheered. They knew it was me."

Watwood said he learned how government and parliamentary procedure helps things run in an orderly fashion without overwhelming the system and how different levels of government interact. But Watwood said he isn't sure whether his week at Boys State will inspire him to get involved in politics.

"But it definitely inspired me to get more involved with what I do," he said. "There's so much more that I know people could do. I didn't know how much they could do and what input they had."

Watwood said Boys Nation is similar to Boys State but incorporates aspects of creating a government similar to the U.S. government and culminates with the election of a vice president and president.

Three other high school students also represented Routt County at Colorado Boys State. American Legion Post 89 in Hayden sent Chris Miner and Jonathon Lee. American Legion Post 44 in Steamboat Springs sent Vladan Chase.

Ron Nereson, the chairman for Boys State at American Legion Post 89 in Hayden, said sending high school students to the program is one of the major functions of the post. He said the program gives participants the opportunity to pass laws, some of which will be passed on to the Colorado Legislature during the next year's legislative session.

He added that the program leaves an impression on its participants. Nereson said a former Hayden High School student who participated in Colorado Boys State more than 10 years ago, now an Army captain, sent him an e-mail last year lauding the program after he'd run into another Boys State alum in Iraq.

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