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About 2,500 people rode their own trail to Boston to attend the 103rd Independent Insurance Agents of America Inc.'s annual convention Sept. 25-29.

In between downing bowls of chowder and ducking foul balls at Fenway Park, the attendees wandered along the exhibit floor, heard the latest on Washington's political scene and attended sessions discussing industry best practices.

At the opening general session, attendees watched a lively and laugh-filled discussion of President Clinton's political crisis. Facing off were Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard, a conservative political magazine, and Chris Matthews, Washington bureau chief for The San Francisco Examiner and host of CNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Joining them were Paul Equale, chief executive offer of the IIAA, and Robert Rusbuldt, IIAA executive vp and lobbyist in Washington.

After the discussion was a keynote speech on ethics by Richard Capen Jr., author and former U.S. ambassador to Spain.

At the closing general session, Jack Kemp, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, member of Congress and the 1996 vice presidential candidate, gave an address on the free enterprise system.

In keeping with its annual tradition, the IIAA presented a host of awards at the conference.

Three state associations -- Maryland, Tennessee and Georgia -- were honored for their achievements, ranging from education to member services to government affairs, and presented with The Outstanding State Association Award. State associations are grouped by size, with an Outstanding State Association award going to one group in each of the three size categories.

The Independent Insurance Agents of New Jersey was presented with two awards, the National Communication Award and the National Education Award.

Alan Nelson, president of the Winona Agency in Minnesota, received the Matthew A. Cantoni Technical and Risk Management Award for dedication in improving the products and services IIAA members offer.

The Insurance Brokers & Agents of the West received the 1998 Outstanding Young Agents Committee Award.

SAFECO Insurance Cos. was honored with the 1998 IIAA Internet Award for outstanding support of the independent agency system on the World Wide Web.

Also, Barbara McCreery of Germantown High School in Philadelphia received the InVEST Teacher of the Year Award.

The IIAA's 1999 conference will be held Sept. 27-Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. For more information, call the IIAA at 800-221-7917.