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Pine-Richland 8th-grader's history paper earns top spot

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Pine-Richland Middle School student Joseph Mullen earned a first-place award in the National History Day in Pennsylvania contest. The eighth-grader’s entry was titled “The Advent of the Free Press.” Joseph took first place in the Junior Individual Paper category for grades 6-8.

Local winners of the 2013 National History Day in Pennsylvania state contest

Junior (Grades 6-8) Individual Historical Paper

1st place, Joseph Mullen, “The Advent of the Free Press,” Pine-Richland Middle School

3rd place, Isabelle Schroeder, “Death and the Spanish Lady: A Biological, Social, and Technological Turning Point for Mankind,” Mary Queen of Apostles School in the Diocese of Greensburg

Junior (Grades 6-8) Individual Exhibit

3rd place, Olivia Castellone, “Sex, Sports, and Segregation: Title IX in Action,” Peters Township Middle School

Junior (Grades 6-8) Individual Performance

1st place, Alice Navadeh, “How Columbine Changed American Schools,” Marshall Middle School in the North Allegheny School District

3rd place, Julia Solomon, “Ludwig Van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony,” Pine-Richland Middle School

Junior (Grades 6-8) Group Performance

2nd place, Shreya Sharma and Angela Roberts, “The Sound of Silence: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring,” Peters

Junior (Grades 6-8) Individual Documentary

1st place, Carmen Sawa, “Before Silent Spring, A Fatal Fall: The Donora Smog, the Birth of Clean Air and the Death of an Industrial Town,” Bellmar Middle School in the Belle Vernon Area School District

3rd place, Megan Christner, “Special Orders 191 and the Fate of a Nation: From the Confederates Last, Best Hope to a New Birth of Freedom,” Bellmar

Junior (Grades 6-8) Group Website

1st place, Sarah McGowan and Kendyle Bennett, “The Gentleman's Agreement: The Color Line Comes to Baseball,” Bellmar

Senior (Grades 9-12) Individual Historical Paper

2nd place, Gabriel Schroeder, “Hell No, We Won't Glow: Three Mile Island as the Turning Point for Nuclear Power,” St. Joseph High School in the Diocese of Pittsburgh

3rd place, Jeff Bergman, “The Gilded Illusion of Bretton Woods: The Turning Point in Global Monetary Policy,” Peters

Senior (Grades 9-12) Group Exhibit

3rd place, Sara Chaudhry, Rocco Vitalone, Jordan Doman and Benjamin Farina, “A Nation Heals: The Vietnam Memorial,” Gateway Senior High School in the Gateway School District

Senior (Grades 9-12) Individual Performance

1st place, Mitchell Farrell, “White Christmas−Red Snow: The Turning Points of the Battle of the Bulge,” St. Joseph

Senior (Grades 9-12) Individual Documentary

3rd place, Elyse Kaplan, “The Seven Years' War: Forging the Fate of a Continent,” Uniontown Area High School in the Uniontown Area School District

Senior (Grades 9-12) Individual Website

3rd place, Eva Gnegy, “Uncovering the Universe: Edwin Hubble,” Trinity High School in the Trinity Area School District

Senior (Grades 9-12) Group Website

1st place, Shane Coffield and Jacie Goudy, “Copernican Heliocentrism and the Dawn of Modern Science,” Trinity

2nd place, Joie Zabec and Alexandra Haduch, “Pearl Harbor: Day of Infamy,” St. Joseph

Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 9:07 p.m.

A New York printer whose 1735 acquittal in a libel trial — and the precedent the case set — led to a recent victory closer to home for a local eighth-grader.

Pine-Richland Middle School student Joseph Mullen's history paper about the trial of John Peter Zenger won a first-place award in the National History Day in Pennsylvania contest. The paper, titled “The Advent of the Free Press,” finished atop the Junior Individual Paper category for grades six through eight.

“I was kind of surprised, excited .... but, I mean, I put a lot of work into it,” said Joseph, 14, a Pine resident.

He and 62 other first- or second-place winners were chosen from among 766 students, some of whom competed in groups, to compete nationally at the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland from June 9-13.

Students compete in one of 18 categories.

Founded in 1974, National History Day is a yearlong program in which sixth- through 12th-grade students study and interpret historical topics. Students produce performances, exhibits, multimedia documentaries, websites and research papers based on research related to an annual theme.

Of the more than 11,900 Pennsylvania students who participated this year, about 6,000 competed regionally, said Jeffrey Hawks, state coordinator for National History Day in Pennsylvania.

A record number of students, 2,876, will compete in the national contest, said Kim Fortney, deputy director of National History Day Inc. Winners will receive medals and monetary awards ranging from $250 to $5,000, depending on the grade division and award placement.

Joseph, whose paper placed third at the regional competition at the Heinz History Center in March, found that Zenger's trial clearly illustrated the 2013 contest's theme, “Turning Points in History.”

“I just think that it happened in the 1730s way before the Revolutionary War. And I just think how freedom of the press and freedom of speech came through that early before they even made the Constitution and before we even became a country,” Joseph said.

In 1734, Zenger was arrested for seditious libel after his newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal, publishing attacks against Gov. William Cosby. At Zenger's trial, his lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, argued that the “truth is a defense against libel.”

Not only was Zenger found not guilty, but his trial helped to further the cause for American independence from Britain and helped to pave the way for the First Amendment, which protects the right to freedom of religion and expression, according to the Federal Hall National Memorial's website.

“Hamilton's crafty choice of emotional analogies, the jury of Zenger's peers, and the inexperience of Judge De Lancey were the perfect concoction that unexpectedly introduced a right, the freedom of the press, which would become a central principle of American democracy,” Joseph wrote in his paper.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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