Robert Oliver, a student at Early College High School in Toledo, said he didn't know anything about Maria von Maltzan until he ran across her name while researching the Holocaust for a history contest.
He and classmates Jordan Saar and Colleen Lautzenhiser said they were fascinated by the heroic exploits of Ms. Maltzan to rescue Jews in Germany, and she became their history project.
For the Early College group and 125 other students yesterday, the District 1 History Day Competition at Rocket Hall on the University of Toledo campus was a chance to view history and those who made an impact on it in a different way.
The 15th annual contest is part of a nationwide program to get students more interested and involved in history. Yesterday's event was sponsored by the National History Association, Ohio Historical Society, and the University of Toledo's history department. Students researched specific areas of history and presented them to be judged.
The Early College team examined the life of Ms. Maltzan, born to a wealthy German family, who hid Jews in her home, falsified documents to hide their identities, and personally drove many of them from Berlin.
"She went against her family and if she was caught she would have been considered a traitor," said Robert, a freshman.
Another group of students from St. John's Jesuit High School compared the lives of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
"We wanted to look at the people who took a stand in history and made the world a different place," said Ormand Saunders, II, who worked on his projects with James Johnson and Jharad Davis.
"Being African-American, I wanted to see minorities who have made a difference," Ormand said. "It showed that passive tactics can lead to freedom and that you don't have to use violence."
Arnette Hawkins, the District 1 coordinator of the competition, said she was hoping students would make that kind of personal connection with history.
She hoped when students studied individuals and events, it would make history relevant and they would understand the present more by what happened in the past.
"We hope they develop more of a love for history and that it's not the same old boring stuff we suffered through," Ms. Hawkins said. "I loved history, but it can be boring. It was about memorizing dates and events. This way, we think they are finding people they can relate to, issues they can relate to, and even some issues that are still going on today."
Students competed in a junior division [sixth through eighth grades] and senior division [ninth through 12th grades].
Ms. Hawkins said students entered projects in four categories: exhibition, documentary, performance, and historical paper.
She said in all but the historical paper, they could place an entry as an individual or a group. Historical papers had to be done individually.
The judges were made up of history graduate students and faculty at the University of Toledo.
Monique Davis, the assistant state coordinator, said between 3,000 to 4,000 junior high and high school students across the state will produce history projects for the competition.
Ms. Davis said local winners from the state's 10 districts will compete in a state competition May 6.
Contact Clyde Hughes at: email@example.com or 419-724-6095.