In 2019, for the first time in its 76-year history, the Badger Girls State program did not host a representative from the Verona Area School District.

Jenni Syftestad, Badger Girls chairman for Legion Post 385, said for over 70 years, the program has sent “at least one girl” from Verona. She said she is “heartbroken” that Verona high schools didn’t find someone to attend this year.

“We found this out after we had already forwarded our fee to the state organization, which we ended up forfeiting,” Syftstad said.

She proposed the downturn in local participation may be due to a lack of awareness more than a lack of interest. Syftestad said she is concerned not all of the local junior girl’s school counselors are reaching out to them.

“We have heard in the months since June that many girls at the high schools are not even aware of this worthwhile American Legion Auxiliary Program,” Syftestad said.

Up to three Verona girls entering their senior year of high school may attend annually. Verona High School may send two girls and the Exploration Academy Charter High School may send one. While 2019 was the first time in the program’s history no local girls attended, 2018 only saw one attendee.

The Wisconsin American Legion Auxiliary is the organizer of the week-long government and leadership conference, which is attended by young women who have just completed their junior year of high school.

Delegates to the program are sponsored by their local American Legion Auxiliary units, with all housing and meals provided, which makes the cost for the delegate free, other than personal transportation to the conference. Since 1941, officers of the Verona American Legion Auxiliary Unit 385 have sponsored girls to attend the Badger Girls State program.

Local legions have to submit their fee to the Badger Girls State program in January each year and then have until April to select delegates. However, they are not refunded their money if no girl(s) are sent as delegates.

Syftestad believes girls may underestimate the importance of this annual civics conference in which every girl is encouraged to participate in some level of the governmental process.

“But this program is a great reference that can be placed on a resume for a college application,” she said.

More than 700 teenaged girls from across Wisconsin gather for one week each June to learn about government and politics in a hands-on, role-playing environment. It is held on the campus of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Most of the girls are 16 or 17 years old. They form imaginary cities and counties, hold mock elections for local government positions, enact laws and essentially form a make-believe 51st state.

“It seems like junior girls just won’t take a week out of their busy summer schedules anymore like they will take time for sports and other summer activities,” Syftestad said.

Interested girls who will have completed their junior year of high school by June may speak to their school guidance counselors about attending. Home-schooled students are also eligible to attend.

The 2020 session is Sunday, June 21 to Friday, June 26.

Contact Neal Patten, Verona Community Reporter at neal.patten@wcinet.com.