Kansas University's Oliver Hall looked more like an airport during the holiday rush than a residence hall Sunday as more than 500 teens arrived for Sunflower Girls State.
The hall's lobby was filled with luggage, parents, siblings, boyfriends and of course girls.
A total of 542 high school girls from across Kansas were scheduled to make their way to the registration tables between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday before heading up to their residence hall rooms, which will be home until Saturday.
The annual event, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a hands-on experience designed to give high school girls an opportunity to learn about the political process of city, county and state government, said Lois Icenogle, director of Girls State. During the week, the girls will participate in a mock political process, including campaigns, elections and studying state laws.
Gov. Joan Finney is among several state and local officials scheduled to speak to the girls this week.
WHILE WAITING for their daughter to pick up her room key and dining card Sunday afternoon, Jan and Rick Holcomb of Junction City said they were glad their 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, was accepted to attend the event.
Both Boys State and Girls State are part of a family tradition, said Jan Holcomb, who attended Girls State in 1960.
"I just think it's great. I can still look at it 30 years later and ... think about the friends you make," she said. "I look back at some of the things we had done ... and shouldn't have done," she said.
Rick Holcomb also attended Boys State in Florida and the Holcombs' son attended Boys State in Kansas in 1985.
Although it is expected to eventually return to KU, Boys State will be held at Kansas State University in Manhattan this year because of scheduling problems aggravated by the destruction of Hoch Auditorium in a fire last June.
Like most Girls Staters, Nicole Holcomb is a good student and holds several leadership positions including being president of her junior class at Junction City's St. Xavier High School and president of Future Homemakers of America. She also is a member of the yearbook staff and the volleyball and basketball teams.
AFTER BEING recommended by their high school staff and faculty, the girls were selected to attend Girls State by their local American Legion Auxiliary units.
As Icenogle said: "They're all supposed to be in the top of their class, potential leaders."
The $125 tab for each girl, which covers room and board as well as some extra costs, is picked up by their respective American Legion auxiliaries, schools, businesses and civic organizations.
For Hutchinson High School senior Judy Hill, 16, the weeklong educational event is important because girls are "every bit as bright as boys ... and every bit as capable of being leaders."
Although not all Girls Staters are interested in pursuing political careers, 17-year-old Mikah Wilson said she is interested in working in government.
Wilson, who attends the Sumner Academy of Arts in Kansas City, Kan., said she is particularly interested in the law and that this week will give her some background.
Looking toward the future, even after college, Wilson said she would like to work as an FBI agent before becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice.