When We the People teammates stepped back onto their bus after placing second at the national invitational, a few upset sniffles broke the silence.

Then, the bus driver — nicknamed “D.C.” — started singing “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole to the students, who had competed on the national stage and made their community proud.

“That made us feel better, so I started busting out ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’” Haley Davidson said.

The hourlong ride back to their hotel was filled with renditions of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Hello” by Adele and a musical version of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

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Unforgettable was what this experience was for the 20 eighth-graders who won the state civics contest in December and took Brown County back to nationals for a fourth time.

At the contest, they testified in mock congressional hearings and answered questions about the Constitution from law professors, state representatives and history professors.

During their five days in Washington, D.C., the students were able to visit monuments, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol and Arlington National Cemetery.

The students even received a private tour of the National Archives from Rebecca Martin, a 1990 Brown County High School graduate who used to work there and now volunteers — “which was really nice for the kids to see someone who had actually gone through Brown County High School and is now working in D.C.,” We the People teacher Michael Potts said.

When the students returned home May 3, their community was there with open arms.

Parents, students and other fans lined a portion of South Van Buren Street. They cheered and held blue-and-gold signs high as the bus appeared, escorted by local police and fire department all the way from the county line.

Since Brown County Junior High teams won the first two times they went to nationals, some students said they were nervous about coming home. For the second year in a row, BCJHS had placed second to Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital.

“I felt disappointed, and I thought they’d be disappointed,” said Allison Stogsdill. “But once we got the escorts, my spirits were lifted.”

Claire Dannelley said placing second helped bring the team closer.

“It was a lot better than if we had won, because we would probably be so caught up in that we wouldn’t really connect,” she said.

“We’re like more of a family than we are friends now,” Davidson said.

Potts said he could not be more proud of his students, “not only just the way they performed in terms of knowledge and their hearings, but just the way they’ve performed all year has been a real class act,” he said.

“We had so many people really tell us how much they appreciated that. To me, that means an awful lot.”

“It wouldn’t matter if we finished dead last, I could not be more proud of them, and, really, they should be proud of themselves for all of the hard work they’ve really put into this,” Potts said.

“They don’t see it yet, because they’re eighth-graders, but the things that they learn in this program are going to really carry them to really great heights. I really look forward to seeing how far they go.”

Meet the team

Unit 1: What were the Founders’ basic ideas about government?

Cassidy Davis, Katie Goodwin, Angel Meece, Myka Snyder

Unit 2: What shaped the Founders’ thinking about government?

Kara Adams, Delaney Hobbs, Chloee Robison

Unit 3: What happened at the Philadelphia Convention?

Riley Arnholt, Emma Beck, Tanner Bowman, Sara Fishel

Unit 4: How was the Constitution used to establish our government?

Olivia Baughman, Claire Dannelley, Joey Drew

Unit 5: How does the Constitution protect our basic rights?

Haley Davidson, Chloe Lee, Isabel Rygiel, Allison Stogsdill

Unit 6: What are the responsibilities of citizens?

Whitney Clark, Taylor Poling