Students meld ancient history

Gladiators, facing both mental and physical challenges, will invade Sage Hill School in Newport Beach this weekend.

With trebuchets, chariots and PVC-pipe weapons, they'll compete in physical challenges. And armed with history, mythology and the Latin language, they'll compete in events testing their mental prowess

Sage Hill, a small private school of more than 450 students, will be bathed in ancient culture as it hosts this year's California Junior Classical League's statewide convention Friday and Saturday.

For more than 50 years, Irvine-based CJCL has alternated the state convention between Northern and Southern California.

After producing a regional convention, Sage Hill — a school much smaller than typical hosts — volunteered to take on the task.

In the past few weeks, the campus has transformed into a mash-up of ancient Greece and Rome with iconic buildings appearing as facades.

"It looks pretty amazing right now," Sage Hill's senior convention President Ryan Lee said. "We put up the Parthenon about a week ago."

Ryan and junior Allie Fudge, also a convention president, have prepped with Latin teacher Lance Novotny for more than a year.

Thursday, they frantically trained 400 volunteers who are expected to direct more than 1,500 visitors from 43 middle and high schools from across California and Arizona.

They organized dozens of events, including an expanded gladiator workshop about crafting gear out of cardboard and tinfoil.

"Non-lethal weapons," Allie joked.

Sage Hill's organizers incorporated classic CJCL events such as a Gregorian chant competition, a Latin comprehension event and a chariot race.

But they've also been able to incorporate some new items.

Ryan helped design an obstacle course themed around the 12 labors of Hercules.

In one stop, competitors throw Wiffle balls into a replica of the Nemean lion.

"According to the myth, that was the only way to kill the lion, by attacking it through its mouth," he said.

Allie helped create a classical trivia Jenga tower.

Contestants will pull beams out of a 6-foot structure to read a question. If they get the question wrong, they have to pull another beam, getting closer and closer to the structure's collapse.

Despite the nights that some of the 90 students in the Latin program spent prepping instead of sleeping, Sage Hill's being a first-time host has its benefits, according to Allie and Ryan.

"I think this is actually the best opportunity for creativity," Ryansaid.

The two have been able to pour their enthusiasm for the classics into the event, said Allie, who has studied Latin for six years.

Now she sees that work across her campus.

"There's a chariot that's parked right in front," she said. "There's so much visible passion that it's pretty exciting."

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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