Their labors paid off. The trio - Powell as a single presenter and McCormick and McCord as a duo - won first place honors in the Missouri History Day Competition and will compete at nationals in Washington, D.C. in June.
Working from the topic of "Exploration, Encounter and Exchange" the teenagers found themselves doing their own exploring as they brought their historical characters to life. McCormick and McCord recount the story of Missourians John Colter and George Shannon, two members of the Lewis and Clark expedition who continued to make history. Powell's character, Eliza Sappington Jackson, provides insight on the development of the quinine pill to fight malaria.
McCord, who plays the role of Colter, and McCormick, who is Shannon, explained their characters in many ways reflect them.
"I have a bad accent and he doesn't," said McCord with a nod toward McCormick. "Shannon was a really educated guy. Colter was an outdoors person and I am too. I'm a big deer hunter and he was too."
McCormick explained Shannon, a lawyer, went on to become a Kentucky senator. "I hope to become a lawyer when I get older, hopefully a successful, rich one. Being a lawyer and a senator would be a good job to have."
Powell admitted she had intended to create a performance around a woman inventor. "Actually I wanted to do something a little feminist," she recalled. "My teacher wanted me do something with Sappington. I did - reluctantly."
In her research, Powell learned more about Sappington, choosing to portray his oldest daughter. Noting that many parts of Eliza's life were tragic, Patton said: "I figured she was one tough gal" and she came to admire Sappington's determination to come up with a way to battle malaria after losing a daughter to the disease.
While their presentations each clocked in just under 10 minutes, they required months of work. The three students said they began their research in October, writing papers for their history teacher, Michael Murphy.
There were no books written by the people they recreated but they did find references in other works and journals. By December they created scripts, complete with extensive documentation of their sources.
Their performances, explained the teens, seek to inform and entertain. "The hardest part is trying to think how that character would think ... but it is fun to be another character," said Powell. "Like stepping into their shoes," chimed in McCord.
Working with their teacher, parents and volunteers, Marsha Pearson and Alice Fortner, the young actors created costumes to reflect their historic times. McCord dressed in leather similar to buckskins ("like Davy Crockett") while McCormick's gentleman attire was a colonial red suit ("and very hot").
And while practice may makes perfect, the three agreed the extra hours after school and on Saturdays sometimes got tedious but they noted performers must never get tired of their scripts. "Every time you go before an audience you have to act like it is the first time you have done it," explained McCormick.
Risco students have a history of doing well at History Day (for the 13th year the school was named the District's Sweepstakes winner) and all three performers are veterans, each competing at the state level previously. The experience, they agreed, helped in developing their award-winning presentations.
In addition to presenting their performances, the actors meet with the judges to discuss their projects. According to Powell this is where it is beneficial to have taken part before, giving her insight on things the judges are looking for and will ask.
"And they like to be personal and you want to laugh at their jokes," added McCord.
The volunteers and the teachers are also in the audience watching, critiquing and learning along with the students. The extra efforts are worthwhile, said Fortner. "It is worth it all when you see the look on their faces and they have won," she said. "Then to be able to go to Washington, D.C., is like the icing on the cake - they will walk where their heroes walked and there is all kinds of things to see and do."
Their teacher has high hopes for his trio of actors, noting their hard work and determination to continually improve their performances. "I think they will be competitive at nationals - they are going up against the best in the country," said Murphy. "If at the end of the day they feel they did their best, then I'll be happy."