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Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township rivalry extends to voting

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Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township high schools are competing not just on athletic fields and in the classroom, but as voters, too.

The social studies department at each school wanted to see where more students would register to vote in a single day.

Jessica Hurt, department chairman at Hinsdale Central, said she gladly accepted LT’s invitation to pit Hinsdale Central against its arch rival in a friendly competition.

Since the law changed allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the November election to vote in the March primary, it made more student eligible to register, Hurt said.

Volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Downers Grove, Woodridge & Lisle registered Central students Jan. 30 before school and during the lunch, while two towns over the League of Women Voters from the La Grange Area registered students at LT.

Corinne Casper, 17, of Hinsdale, said registering to vote was exciting, doing so in the school cafeteria was convenient, and the chance to top LT made it even better. Noting the tension at the last few basketball games between LT and Hinsdale Central, Casper said, “It’s one of the ways we can retaliate.”

For Hurt, it’s personal. Her husband, James Milkert, is a social studies teacher at LT.

“I want bragging rights at home,” Hurt said.

Based on enrollment, Hurt estimates at least 600 Central students are eligible. Her goal was for 150 students to register Jan. 30, and was ecstatic when 196 students registered.

At LT, global studies Chairman Paul Houston was pleased there were 423 students registered, or 33.8 percent out of a possible 1,250 juniors and seniors, who comprise a little more than half of the north campus students in La Grange.

The contest is based on a percentage of eligible students to take into consideration that LT has many more students than Hinsdale Central, he said. He and Hurt planned to confer about the totals.

“My priority is to keep it as friendly as possible to motivate both of the student bodies,” Houston said.

Hurt said in classes such as U.S. history in junior year, AP government and politics, and constitutional law, a senior elective, students learn about their civil liberties and the importance of their participation in government.

“We hammer that home from when they arrive as freshmen to when they leave as seniors,” Hurt said.

Brooke White, a junior from Hinsdale whose 18th birthday is in October, interned for state Sen. Kirk Dillard over the summer. By registering to vote now, she will be able to vote in the March primary, in which Dillard is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

Naveen Balaji, who will turn 18 in two weeks, said he missed the chance to register at a model United Nations conference he attended last week, so took the opportunity Jan. 30. He and Andrew Andjelic, 17, both seniors from Willowbrook, said they were excited to register.

“We learn about the state of the world,” in American history, rhetoric and macroeconomics, Andjelic said. “We spent four years of our lives learning about this and now we can go out and use all we learned to make decisions.”

Houston accounted for success of the registration effort due to about 20 league volunteers, emails about the event to eligible students and their parents and the potential lure of being the first group to vote as 17-year-olds.

“That’s a pretty amazing total, and it’s probably by far one of the largest that we’ve ever done,” said Jean Klotter, president of the La Grange Area League. “It took a huge effort and a lot of coordination between the school and league members.”

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