What would Hercules do?

From a distance it looked a little like the toga party scene in the movie "Animal House." But, upon further inspection, the 100-some sixth-graders at Lincoln Elementary School were competing Wednesday in its annual Olympic games.

They were acting out essentially what they'd learned in their Greek history class over the past year.

Every year, in a nod to their seniority and in the absence of any sort of graduation ceremony, the school in Corona del Mar encourages the students to dress up like ancient Greeks and compete in javelin throws, foot races, tug of war, and the shot put and discus.

Of course, the javelins aren't real weapons of yore. They are made of straws weighed down with bubble gum; the shot put involves softballs and the discus event is carried out with Frisbees.

It's all one big competition that lasts about two hours and ends with bringing in the brawn and bare strength of a tug a war and the old-fashioned speed of a plain old foot race.

"We study ancient civilizations. The Greeks are just one of them," said Judy Taylor, a sixth-grade teacher, who wore a flowery "victory" wreath on her head for the occasion. "It's part of our curriculum. And we promise them at the end of the year that they can go out and do some of the things they've read about."

That would be the history behind the Olympic games. But let's not forget all the other facets of Greek history, including Greek mythology. It's a subject the children seem to really enjoy, if their written assignments are any indication, said Taylor, who's been teaching at the school for 18 years.

While the hefty stuff like Alexander the Great and the complicated philosophies of Socrates and Aristotle are touched upon in class, so too are the easy-reading, well-written epic poems about Hercules as he performs a dozen tasks in the form of penance, whether slaying a lion, capturing a bull or literally twisting the length of a river to clean up the dirty stables by running water through them.

Taylor took the tasks one step further and asked her students to use their imagination to create a 13th task, which they all did — without having to be asked twice.

Matt Ctvrtlik, who actually visited Greece a few years ago with his father — who just happens to be a real life, three-time Olympian volleyball competitor — had Hercules' visit modern-day Greece, as Matt saw it, namely "under construction."

"Then Hercules had to deal with getting back," said Matt, 12, who was racing off to the tug a war. "I had him use some of the tools I created for him."

That was Hercules' machine, so to speak.

Other students forced Hercules to collect some of the lava from the volcano that ended up destroying Pompeii.

And the creativity goes on, Taylor said.

On June 25, the sixth-graders will graduate, but they won't get to graduate like some sixth-graders do around Orange County — with a formal ceremony of some sort, said Pam Bertsch, the school's officer manager.

It's something that makes her a bit sad and yet there's light at the end of the tunnel.

"What we usually do," Bertsch said, "is we have the whole school line up and create a tunnel with their arms. Then the sixth-graders crawl through it. That's the way we end the year. It's fun."


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