‘Top Texan’ tournament aims to keep state’s history at forefront

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GEORGETOWN, Texas (Nexstar) — As seventh graders at Forbes Middle School learn about Texas’ frontier wars and cattle drives, social studies teacher Sarah Madden is looking long-term.

“I think it’s important as far as Texas history because we all live in Texas,” said Madden.

She is looking for light-bulb moments for her students — like when they realize the state’s Capitol City was named for Texas revolutionary Stephen F. Austin.

One of those light-bulb moments could be the “Top Texan” Tournament, hosted by the state’s General Land Office and now in its fourth year. The bracket-style tournament pits politicians against pop culture icons, from Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan, to George Straight and Willie Nelson, until one famous figure wins the crown.

“The kids hear these names all the time, and then when we start studying it, they can make connections to it.”

The competition, running alongside the college basketball playoffs, is part of the state’s Save Texas History initiative. Land Commissioner George P. Bush said the goal is two-fold.

“Regardless of your politics or regardless of your background, I think you’ll find it interesting,” Bush said. “Learn more about your state’s history, but also have some fun with others while doing it.”

The tournament features 64 notable Texas women and men including war heroes, figures from politics and the arts.

“My hope is that it inspires a deeper appreciation for Texas State history,” Bush said.

As Bush filled out his bracket this year, he picked his grandfather, George H.W. Bush, the nation’s 41st President, as his “Top Texan, saying he “had to stay with the home team.”

Stephen F. Austin was crowned “Top Texan” last year, ending Sam Houston’s reign. Houston had back-to-back victories in the first two years of the competition.

“They may not know who Sam Houston is at the beginning of the year, but they know who Willie Nelson is. I think it [social studies] is just a way to draw students in,” Madden explained.

The bracket submission has closed for 2019, but voting runs through April 4. GLO staff will announce a winner on April 5.

“We are the most uniquely talented state in the country and I think this bracket shows that,” Bush said.

For information on how to enter and vote, click here.

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