Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science senior John Wells and junior Joseph Mimbs pull a chariot during the Latin Convention at Mississippi University for Women on Friday afternoon. MSMS students placed third in the chariot race. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Latin students gather as “gladiators” Rebecca Chen and Luckett Nixon fight with foam pool noodles during the Latin Convention at Mississippi University for Women on Friday. Luckett is a sophomore at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Madison. Rebecca is a senior at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
April 8, 2017 11:26:00 PM
On the grassy field outside the Pohl gymnasium on Mississippi University for Women's campus Friday, a group of teenagers encircled a handful of their peers. The teenage "gladiators" in the center of the ring each had a brightly colored balloon tied around one ankle and were frantically beating their opponents with equally brightly colored pool noodles, all as their peers cheered them on in English -- and Latin.
The object of the melee was to pop each other's balloons, so it probably didn't resemble the gladiatorial battles of ancient Rome 2,000 years ago. But at least Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science senior Rebecca Chen, who tied for first in the women's gladiatorial contest, didn't have to face a Roman emperor's thumbs down.
"I didn't think I'd get that far, because all the girls looked really intimidating, but it feels really great," Chen said.
It was the fourth statewide Latin convention MSMS students have attended in as many years and the first they have hosted. MSMS Latin teacher Lori Pierce helped organize the event for 10 school groups totaling more than 200 students studying Latin or classics. Set up by the Mississippi Junior Classical League, the event allows students to compete in various athletic, academic and artistic events, each with a Latin or Roman history component.
"It's just a way to make the language live with the students," Pierce said.
The convention began Friday morning with students taking quizzes for an hour. Students had time to take two or three of seven possible quizzes, on everything from Latin grammar to Greek and Roman mythology, Pierce said. Following lunch were the athletic events, and the day finished with Latin quiz bowl, skits, videos and awards for different events.
An important part of history
The variety of events is part of what makes the convention appealing to students, said Beth Watts, co-chair of the Mississippi Junior Classical League who has helped organize the convention for four years.
"I think it's important for kids to have something fun to look forward to," she said. "It's an athletic event, as well as an academic event. There's an art component to it. ... (The students) get to see kids from other schools that participate."
Meeting other students is a plus for MSMS senior McKenzie Jones, who took Latin her junior year and met plenty of people who didn't understand why she would study a "dead language."
"I think the best part is that we're connecting with other Latin students," she said. "These are the same people that kind of know ... what we do, and that's pretty fun."
Though she switched her foreign language study to Spanish this year, she still thinks it's important people understand Latin and Roman history and culture.
"It's important to try to reach out to that part of history," she said.
"(Latin) is the basis from which many modern languages came from," she said. "Plus the civilization gave us political ideology. We get so much from the Roman culture, Roman history, that it's still valuable to learn it in the original language (which) doesn't translate word-for-word. So ... when you read it in the original Latin, it means more than reading it translated into English."
It's also a good subject for students going into scientific fields, she added.
"Forty percent of English vocabulary, and even a higher percentage of science vocabulary, came from Latin," she said.
As Pierce spoke, several MSMS students milled around behind her, making sure they were prepared for the final athletic event -- the chariot race.
Jones designed and built the MSMS chariot over several days.
"The base that we had was kind of old," Jones said. "We had been using it for a couple of years, so I basically rebuilt it out of some new wood. That took me two evenings in the engineering lab, just building it and then making the modifications to make sure it was safe. And then I cut out the top part and that took me, maybe, one evening. And then I screwed it together (Thursday) morning."
She was delightfully surprised to see the finished product after three other students painted it. The words "Undae Caeruleae" -- Latin for "blue waves," the MSMS mascot -- surrounded symbols of math and science on the chariot, which had just enough room for senior Sutton Klein to ride, while senior John Wells and junior Joseph Mimbs pulled it.
Wells and Mimbs steered the chariot to the starting line with three other hand-made chariots. At the sound of the bullhorn, they were off on a straight, 100-yard course across an open field. Students dashed alongside the race holding their cameras to capture the moment on video.
One chariot collapsed, but the other three made it safely to the makeshift finish line on the other side of the field. The result: third place for MSMS.
Pierce was disappointed. They'd specifically designed a heavier chariot that would be capable of making turns, which the races at convention usually have.
"If there was a turn, we'd have been it," she said.
Still, MSMS won several other awards at the convention, including the spirit stick -- the award given for the school with students "most enthusiastic about everything Latin."
"It was really a great day all around," Pierce said.
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