Two hundred and fifty-six toga-clad students attended the Kansas Junior Classical League State Convention on April 15. Throughout the almost nine hour event, delegates participated in a variety of tests and competitions to test their knowledge of the Latin language and ancient Roman culture.
East’s 15 Latin Club members walked into the annual convention — held at Shawnee Mission Northwest — as the third smallest team, but walked out with the third place prize for the second year in a row. On top of that, each member of East’s delegation placed in at least one category.
During the awards ceremony, Latin Club co-president Jessie Peterson typed on her phone the names of East students who had placed. She held her breath, trying to keep straight in her head whether or not they had a chance. She finally let out that breath when she heard East had placed third and her peers began cheering around her.
The point system that determines the winner is designed in a way that gives an advantage to bigger teams. The overall awards are figured by adding up the results of the individual competitions to find the school’s total. With only 15 members in their delegation, East’s team didn’t have enough people to enter into all of the categories, but they were still able to beat some teams that were two to three times their size.
“Every year Shawnee Mission Northwest and Blue Valley North are going to be guaranteed first and second because of their sheer numbers,” junior Guanghao Yu said. “We beat everyone else and unless we double in size, we are never going to get beyond third, that’s just a fact. We are the best we can be, so that’s pretty significant.”
Unlike other states, Kansas’s Latin convention is only a one-day long event instead of two, so all the written tests are taken at student’s home schools. Students from the nine Kansas schools that attended took up to three exams in topics including grammar, history, mythology and derivatives in three levels depending on what Latin class they are in. At the actual convention, the performance competitions — art, oratory, sight reading and skits — are held. For their skit this year, East wrote a rap opera called “The Ballad of Zachus.”
“It’s about a Latin student whose pencil was broken and in order to sharpen his pencil he had to go fight a monster,” junior Caleb Hanlon said.
The convention also allows students to learn new things about Latin and Roman culture, especially when they compete in a convention favorite, Certamen – a Jeopardy-like game with four people on a team who “slap” in to answer. East’s level one team made it into the final round and placed third.
In order to fully embrace the culture that they were being tested over, delegates were required to dress in Roman garb. While most participants used a sheet, some wore armor or dressed as characters from The Odyssey.
“Our Latin teacher is really picky about togas, because in ancient Rome, if you were a [female] Roman who wore a toga, you were a prostitute,” freshman Nat Nitsch said. “So [the girls] had to wear peplos, which is a sheet pinned at the shoulder.”
However, Latin teacher Anthanasia Worley believes that wearing the ancient Roman clothing has much more of an importance than just a costume and even incorporates it into her curriculum.
“It’s not just a matter of a sheet with a knot tied,” Worley said. “Roman clothing indicated status, indicated citizenship, indicated wealth. So by teaching the names of the clothing and how to put them on properly, then you can read other evidence which helps you to understand these texts.”
For other students though, the fun of the convention lies outside of the togas or new knowledge.
“Spending eight, nine hours in an environment with people wearing togas who study this dead language with you, [it] feels like you have this connection with them through this ancient study,” Yu said.
But both Worley and her students agree that they look forward to the award ceremony the most.
“If you’re in sports, you’ve got people cheering you on all the time, [but] if you’re studying hard, it has to come from inside of you,” Worley said. “And once in awhile, isn’t it nice to have some external validation?”