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Haviland boy's love of history helps him win national award

Courtney Blankenship
Pratt Tribune
Grayson Ballard, Haviland, had fun researching one of his favorite topics as part of a national history contest, which which was named a 2020 winner.

In May 2020, Grayson Ballard, an incoming fifth grader at Haviland Grade School, found out he made history as one of ten finalists in the first-ever ‘Who Was? History Bee’ competition. In June, he found out he, and the finalists, were all named winners. 

The free competition, hosted by Penguin Young Readers, was designed to test third through fifth grade students on their knowledge of historical figures and events through classroom-level and school-level competitions.

The ten national finalists were originally set to compete in the history bee championship in New York City on May 4, however, the live competition had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so all ten finalists were declared winners.

“Everyone in the 3-5 grades had to compete,” Ballard said. “But, I love everything about history and love the Who HQ books. I thought it would be a fun competition.”

Ballard said he was surprised to hear that he won but was glad putting his history knowledge to use.

“I felt confident that I could do good but was pretty nervous about the competition,” Ballard said. “After I took the written test, I felt good about all of my answers.”

Ballard was informed of his win via video call with New York Times Best-Selling author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Jeff Kinney, and Patrick Kinney, author of Who is Jeff Kinney.

“I could barely talk when I met Jeff Kinney,” Ballard said. “I was starstruck and couldn’t remember anything I wanted to say.”

Participants in the competition took written tests and created essays about their own historical heroes. Ballard chose to write his ‘Historical Hero’ essay about Abraham Lincoln.

“I chose Abraham Lincoln because without him, we would not have won the Civil War and ended slavery,” Ballard said. “He made a huge difference because he changed the world and America.”

More than 25,000 students from 49 states competed in this year’s competition, and the second annual Who Was? History Bee is set to begin this fall.

“My goal is to qualify for the national competition again and hopefully get to go to New York this time,” Ballard said. “I plan to save the money to use when I am older for college.”

To honor his achievement, Ballard will receive a $2,000 cash prize, $500 to donate to the organization of his choice, and both him and his school will each receive 50 books from the Who Was? Series. 

Ballard plans to donate the $500 to his hometown Haviland Volunteer Fire Department.

Kami Ballard, Grayson’s mother, said she was excited for her son but was not very surprised when they found out he had been named a winner.

“I’ve always known he was special with his immense knowledge of history,” Ballard said. “I was so proud he was recognized for his intelligence.”

Even though this year’s competition has ended, Grayson said he still stays in contact with a few of the other national finalists.

“We email each other back and forth and talk on Zoom calls frequently; We are working on several projects together.” Ballard said. “It is nice to connect to people who have a love of history as much as I do.”

In the future, Ballard said he would probably like to do something with history for a career but is unsure what that may be at this point in time.

“I learned that history is very important to understand and know about,” Ballard said. “It is important to know what has happened in the past to know how to be in the future.”