By Jeff Noble/Staff Writer
When Tanner Petrey was a fifth grader, his teacher gave him a gift that he hopes will last forever — a love of history.
Tanner, the son of Marty and Melissa Petrey of Corbin, remembered when it happened.
“It all started in that grade. My teacher, Phyllis Mullins, sparked my interest in history. It’s interesting that there are so many people today who are influenced by people, places and events from the past. History shows how great this country is, because we have freedoms you can’t do anywhere else. Historic events can alter anything.”
Three grades later, that curiosity of people, places and events affecting our nation and the world would pay off in a big way.
That’s because Petrey, now an 8th grader at Corbin Middle School, became the Regional History Bee Middle School champion on March 16 in Elizabethtown. He bested a field of 16 middle school students from Kentucky and Southern Indiana to take home the top prize.
More importantly, Petrey will represent Corbin and the Kentucky-Southern Indiana region in the National History Bee Middle School Competition on May 12 in Washington, D.C.
When he started out that day in E’Town, Petrey was one of 16 contestants at the regional championship. After some early competition, six of those 16 were eliminated. Petrey and another Corbin Middle student, 7th grader Mikayla Stinson, were still in the running. After three buzzer system rounds, both Petrey and Stinson were in the top ten and went on to the finals. Stinson was eliminated in the final rounds, while Tanner and a student from the Evansville, Ind., area went head-to-head in those final exciting moments.
The final question came down to this. “Who was president at the time of the Mexican-American War?”
Tanner recalled it all. “I was extremely nervous, and I wasn’t for sure if I could do it. But my mom said to me, ‘Calm down.’ When that question came up, I hit my buzzer before the boy from Indiana, and gave my answer.”
His answer was “James K. Polk.”
It was correct.
“I was just jumping for joy. I was so excited to go the national championship,” Petrey said.
Petrey may have been nervous at the finish, but he was the epitome of “cool” at the beginning. “When they introduced us in the finals, they asked each one of us, ‘Who would you want to sit down and have dinner with?’ I said, ‘Ronald Reagan,’ because I thought of all the great stuff he did when he was in office, and all those decisions he made that changed the course of history as a result.”
When the word got out that Petrey won the regional championship, a lot of people’s faces changed as well.
“My principal, Mrs. (Ramona) Davis, announced it to the whole school. They were all excited and happy, and it was amazing how many people are proud of you,” he recalled.
Sponsored by The History Channel cable television network, it’s the first year the National History Bee Middle School Competition will be held.
“The History Bee was originally a high school competition, and they branched it down to the middle school level. When they have the middle schools’ National History Bee next month, at least parts of it, maybe more, will be televised on The History Channel, possibly in June,” said Carcille Burchette, the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for the Corbin Independent Schools.
Petrey says he has future plans, but then again he’s not quite that big in a hurry. “I might want to go into politics, or maybe become a lawyer. It’s a difficult part of my life I’m in now, because I’m still maturing as a person. But it’s also hard being a teenager. I’m still learning.”
Along with his family and friends, Petrey’s biggest supporter is Burchette. “I’m very, very proud of him. To do something like this, students have to take the initiative. To prepare for this, the student has to be well-informed, read, listen and be aware of the world around them.”
And when he goes to Washington next month, Petrey wants to be quite aware of what surrounds him in America’s Capital City — which he readily admits. “I’ve never been there. I want to see the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and especially the Smithsonian. All those historic places. And I want to win. I want to put my hometown on the map, because Corbin deserves to be there.”
Petrey will be in Washington on May 11, a day before the National History Bee Middle School Competition begins.
He’ll celebrate his 14th birthday that very day, May 11.