Fantasy of Flight Announces Student Winners of “They Dared to Fly” Essay Contest Honoring World War II Tuskegee Airmen

Winning Essays Explain how Airmen's Ideals of Leadership, Excellence, Advocacy and Determination are Essential to Success

POLK CITY, Fla. (May 17, 2012) -Fantasy of Flight recently announced the winners of its second annual “They Dared to Fly” essay contest honoring the nation’s first African-American military aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen.

Students in fourth through twelfth grades were invited to participate in the essay contest by sharing their views about how the Airmen’s values of leadership, excellence, advocacy and determination earned them a place in the history books and/or how these values could be applied in students’ own lives. The competition culminated in February in honor of National Black History Month and was held in conjunction with the first event of the 2012 Legends & Legacies Symposium Series, “They Dared to Fly” honoring the Tuskegee Airmen. Three distinguished Airmen gathered for the symposium Feb. 9-11 to share their recollections of wartime military service during segregated America.

Students were invited to attend the symposium and write about what they learned for the essay contest. Fantasy of Flight offers a discounted symposium package for homeschoolers which includes admission to the attraction, admittance to any of the six Legends & Legacies Symposium Series events, a student study guide, photo opportunity and free parking. The majority of the essay contest winners are homeschool students.

The essay contest winners received not only cash prizes and certificates, but a rare opportunity to receive their awards from a real life hero, Tuskegee Airman Daniel Keel of Clermont, Fla. First place winners were awarded $100; second place, $75 and third place, $50.

Award winners include: High School – First Place, Kamar Smith, Tenoroc High School, Lakeland, Fla., Second Place, Janilice Rivera, Lake Gibson Senior High School, Lakeland, Fla.; Third Place, Katja Needham, Homeschool, Lithia, Fla.; Middle School – First Place, Jacob Wade, Homeschool, Bell Buckle, Tenn., Second Place, Seraiah Needham, Homeschool, Lithia, Fla., Third Place, Trace Gerber, Homeschool, North Venice, Fla.; Elementary School – First Place, Sophie Bonsky, Homeschool, North Port, Fla., Second Place, Pierce Gerber, Homeschool, North Venice, Fla., Third Place, Sarah Shaw, Homeschool, Venice, Fla.

“We were truly amazed and inspired by what each of the students wrote about the Tuskegee Airmen, not only the winners but every participant. It’s obvious they learned a great deal and really took the Airmen’s message to heart, which made the judging extremely difficult,” said Kim Long, General Manager. “We could not be more proud to sponsor this essay competition and to encourage young people to apply the Tuskegee’s message of perseverance in their own lives.”

Fourth grade homeschool student Sophie Bonsky of North Port, Fla. won first place in the elementary school division by putting the plight of the Tuskegee Airmen in terms that every student today can understand. She opened her essay with the analogy of a student being picked on at school and not wanting to go back, but deciding not to give up, just as the Tuskegee Airmen did.

Sixth grader Trace Gerber, a homeschool student from North Venice, Fla., who won third place in the middle school division wrote, “Leadership, excellence, advocacy and determination was their way of life. We should use the amazing principles practiced by the Tuskegee Airmen in their daily lives.”

First place winner in the high school division, Kamar Smith, related his struggles as a student athlete to the hardships the Tuskegee endured. “But through all the diversity they faced, they never let what people said get in their heads. Throughout the pain and the friends they lost, they never gave up. Their lives and experiences show me that if I always push myself and stay true to who I am, I can fulfill my dream of becoming a professional basketball player.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans to be trained as WWII military pilots. On March 24, 1945, the 332nd flew a mission over Berlin, shooting down three German jet aircraft and damaging two others. They received a Presidential Unit Citation for that mission.Of the original group of nearly 1,000 trained pilots and 15,000 ground personnel that made up the Tuskegee Airmen, roughly 50 pilots and 200 ground crew are alive today.

The 2012 Legends & Legacies Symposium Series continues with “Reflections of Vietnam,” June 8-9 and “Letters Home: Love, Courage & Survival,” Oct. 12-13.

Symposium events are included in the price of Fantasy of Flight general admission and are free for annual pass holders. General admission is $28.95 for adults, $26.95 for seniors ages 55 and over and $14.95 for children, ages 6-12, plus 7 percent sales tax. Children five and under are free with full paying adult. Group rates are available for groups of 15 or more; for more information, call 863-984-3500, ext. 220. For general information, visit