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Boys’ play about mining strikes gold at contest

SHARE Boys’ play about mining strikes gold at contest

These kids are walking "Jeopardy" games, overflowing with little-known historic and geologic odds and ends about Utah's mining industry since the early 1800s.

But they appear to care less about spinning Alex Trebec's head with trivia.This trio of Utah County 12-year-olds would admittedly rather be outside swinging for home runs. And they talk about a top finish during the National History Day competition as if they'd won the World Series pennant.

David "Sparky" Mortimer, Benjamin Woahn and Danny Pead, who met in an accelerated learning class at Barratt Elementary School, spent nearly eight months researching and writing a play about how mining changed the face of Utah's settlers.

After winning at regional and state competitions, the soon-to-be seventh-graders performed for cap-tivated judges last month in Washington, D.C., placing seventh out of 98 entries.

State education leaders also voted their play Utah's most outstanding entry during the event, beating out high-school-age delegates in a senior division.

Students could perform a 10-minute play, make a video, create a video program, set up a display or write a paper on U.S. migration patterns.

"But give these boys a bat, and that's where they want to be," said Heidi Woahn, Benjamin's mother. "I think that was what made them unique. There were three boys against all these girls who were into dramatics, and they sold our state. They talked about something else besides the Jazz, skiing and Mormons, and that's what made them stand out."

Mortimer, better known as LaVell Edwards' "buddy" in Bank-One commercials and David Letterman's crack baseball and Olympics correspondent, said the three scenes of the play show how foreign workers affected Utah's culture.

In one scene, Mortimer portrays a "Tommyknocker," a mythical creature from Cornish miner lore. During another, Woahn takes the role of Brigham Young, the early LDS Church prophet who wanted to insulate his people from greedy industrialists.

The final scene, featuring Pead, depicts the life of William T. Barbie, a digger who discovered valuable metals in the sandstone of Silver Reef.

"We wanted to show that the Mormon migration wasn't the only thing that impacted the state," said Mortimer, a stocky blond with a rapid tongue.

Pead, who visited Silver Reef three times to research his role, said he now looks at historical subjects in a different light.

"I learned you get rewarded for a job well done," said Pead, fingering his golden medallion won for being part of the state's top entry. "I used to work just to get done."

Contestants met Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, after the final ceremonies, exchanged collector buttons with competitors and toured several historic sites in Washington, D.C.