Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To...

Way back in the day, I was a member of the Junior Classical League in Clarksville, Tennessee. My two best friends throughout school, a pair of evil twins named Ed and Jim Long, and I competed for four years for our high school and our state. Every August around this time, we were off at the National Junior Classical League convention, from which we would emerge with lots of awards.

They won more than I did.

I was a two-trick pony. I was the school expert on classical mythology and I was the mean member of our certamen team. Certamen (the latin word for battle) is the JCL version of Quiz Bowl. I was mean and I was quick, so much so that our Latin teacher Grady Warren called me Fauces.


At any rate, we always had a blast. I was the one who had to be constantly watched. I was such a high-strung kid that disaster invariably followed me at conventions. My freshman year, I actually made it onto the lower level certamen team (almost unheard of) and wanted to win so badly. I sprained my ankle on the second day of the convention, and when we lost to Virgina (darn them anyway) I was so upset that I limped offstage in front of the thousands of kids attending the assembly bawling my eyes out.

Yeah, I really was that kind of kid.

At any rate, I think the JCL conventions pretty much helped me to establish my self-identity in high school. I was never as quietly brilliant as the twins, but I was so flamboyantly competitive and so viciously visible that for some reason people equated me with them. I'll never forget how, after two years of coming in second in the mythology test at nationals, in my junior year I finally won it.

Everyone was so pleased that even our villainous arch-rivals from WT Woodson in Fairfax, Virginia, stood up and applauded as I accepted.

Nuts, huh?

At any rate, this evening that same Ed Long (now a Latin teacher in our hometown)posted a video from this year's National Junior Classical League convention. I was so flabbergasted watching it--it took me straight back to high school and the energy, the excitement that overwhelmed those Latin conventions. I spent a little time remembering all the great times, all the good friends I'd made there. I even spared a moment to remember how, when we went to Niagara Falls, I crossed over to the Canadian side with a couple of the chaperones (including Laura Lindsey, now married to Ed Long and a Latin teacher back home herself) for a nice dinner and how much trouble they got into because we were late for curfew.

I didn't get into trouble. I was with the chaperones. *grin* Ah, those were the days.

In case you wanted to check the video out, here it is: The Tennessee JCL won the Spirit award for big states. Once upon a time, I too sat in an auditorium and chanted "T-E-double N-E-double S-double E-TENNESSEE!" while wearing a toga and thinking about my certamen match later that day. Once upon a time, those chaperones were worried about whatever disaster I brought instead of these kids. Once upon a time, this convention was the most important thing in my young life.

The Junior Classical League--one of the great academic testing grounds in the United States. Congratulations to all of them--and especial blessings to Grady and Dr. Kaye Warren, who have taught three generations of Latin students in Clarksville, Tennessee. I dedicated The Asphodel Cycle to these amazing teachers because if it weren't for them, Asphodel would never have come to pass.

Spare a thought for your greatest teachers today. I have, and the memory has been heartwarming.