Bonnie Branch Middle School eighth-graders Nick Kundrat and Matt Yagel point to a bar graph made for their school project examining security at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, which ended with 11 athletes killed.

The graph illustrates the amount of money spent on security for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens ($600 million) with a large vertical rectangle. The amount of security spent on the Munich Games ($2 million) is represented with a hairline sliver.

"You can barely see the line for the Munich Olympics," said Matt, 14, who along with Nick crafted the project, "The Munich Massacre: Revolution of the Games." It took first place in the Junior Group Exhibits category at the Maryland History Day Competition in April.

The two will be among 65 middle and high school students representing the state at the National History Day competition June 10-14 at the University of Maryland, College Park. University of Maryland officials say that about a half-million students participate annually in National History Day, an academic program for elementary and secondary school students.

The weeklong national competition in June is expected to include more than 3,000 students from all 50 states, as well as from U.S. territories and Department of Defense schools in Europe, contest officials said.

While most of their classmates were focusing on such topics as Prohibition and sports, Nick and Matt chose an event widely regarded as one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur during an international sporting event.

The two looked at how security problems contributed to the massacre, during which terrorists stormed the Olympic village, killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team and took nine others hostage. In the subsequent rescue attempt, gunfire ensued; five terrorists and all the hostages were killed.

"Even with a good amount of security, it wouldn't have been able to happen," said Matt. "There was so little security at the Munich Olympics that it was easy for terrorists to capture and kill" the Olympians.

Their project shows that the Munich Games tragedy influenced the way security concerns of future Olympics were addressed.

Nick and Matt said they chose the Munich Massacre while looking for possible topics in their school's media center and coming across an Olympics book that explored the incident.

After searching the Internet for more information, the two interviewed the author of a book about the Munich Massacre.

Then they sought firsthand accounts. The two interviewed several people, including a judge for the school-level History Day competition; the judge, the students said, lived in Munich at the time of the massacre.

"He gave us firsthand accounts of how everyone felt when the massacre happened," said Nick, 13.

They also conducted a phone interview with a 1972 Olympic runner from Ireland who now lives in New Jersey.

"They put a lot of legwork in this," said Bonnie Branch Middle media specialist Adam Yeargin. He helped them find a security expert who had done extensive studies on the Munich Massacre while in the Navy.

"Without the interviews, we definitely wouldn't have had as good a project," Nick said.

Bonnie Branch Middle Principal Carolyn Jameson lauded the students' efforts to go well beyond extracting information from Web articles.

"It's one thing to find research online, but the benefit of being able to interview people that can give you facts about the 1972 Olympics is something that these two young men will never forget," said Jameson.

Janine Sharbaugh, the school's resource teacher for gifted and talented students, said she had heard some about the Munich Massacre, but "I definitely know more now about it than I ever would have if known had Matt and Nick not done the project."

Both Nick and Matt are involved in sports, and Matt said crafting the project "changed my view of the Olympics."

"It seems [before 1972] it was more like just a peaceful thing to gather people throughout the world," said Matt, "and that was broken in 1972."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts