When Jack Irvine entered the Pinellas County History Fair competition, he wasn't looking for a lesson in perseverance.
But that's what he got.
The Safety Harbor Middle School student is bound for the National History Day competition in Maryland after winning first place at the state level in a category he was told two months ago he had lost.
"Winning's nice, of course," Jack, 13, said Thursday, "but it's the option of getting a fair trial that really matters."
In March, Jack did everything he could think of to appeal the ruling that landed him last among four in the "individual performance" category of the Pinellas County History Fair.
After he lost, he'd learned that one of the judges in his competition had a daughter who attended the same school as the student who was named the winner. That judge was also the wife of the event's head coordinator, teacher Alan Kay.
Jack's parents discussed it with Kay. They reached out to the district's history supervisor. And they heard back from a state-level coordinator who agreed in an email that the judge had "an inherent conflict of interest" and should not have been allowed to judge at the middle school level. Still, officials told Jack, the ruling would stand.
Jack even went before the Pinellas County School Board in March and told his story — this time carrying the signatures of 70 classmates who he said agreed with him that if unbiased judging can't be assured, the National History Day projects should be eliminated as a required part of the curriculum.
Jack thought that would be the end.
But not long after his story appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, his mother said, an official from the National History Day competition called to say he should be allowed to participate at the state level before a new panel of judges.
This time, Jack not only competed at the Florida History Fair, he won.
Jack said he's excited now that he'll be headed to Maryland in June to compete on the national level with his history project on the American Revolution.