North Allegheny: Classics lovers ride chariot of victory

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In 17 years, the North Allegheny Junior Classical League hasn’‍t stumbled. 

The team of 73 students in grades 8-12 claimed its 17th consecutive state championship title in May at the Pennsylvania Junior Classical League state convention. 

National Junior Classical League is an organization of middle and high school students that aims to foster an appreciation of the language, literature and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. The Pennsylvania competition, held May 23-25 at Penn State University, brought together students from 17 chapters to compete in academic, athletic and artistic events. 

“The kids who’‍ve never been [there] before are always amazed by how passionate everyone at all the schools are,” said Beth Block, a teacher at North Allegheny Intermediate High School and a league sponsor. 

“They like Latin, and sometimes that is questioned, or people don’‍t always get it. And then they get to the convention and see kids who love the language, the culture and the mythology just as much as they do.” 

Any student in grade 8 or above who is enrolled in a Latin class is eligible to join. The group has about 125 members, and the teachers take students who have been active in the club to the annual convention. 

Although each team member must take at least three of six academic tests offered at the competition, the teachers don’‍t organize any preparation beyond their usual curriculum. Robyn Byrnes, a teacher at Marshall Middle School and a sponsor of North Allegheny’‍s league team, attributed the league’‍s 17 state titles to the large size of its delegation and the students’‍ self-motivation. 

“We don’‍t really give them guidance for anything,” Ms. Byrnes said. “It’‍s all on them, and I think that’‍s definitely where it comes from.”

Andy Hosler, 18, of Marshall, is president of the North Allegheny league. He said the extent of his team’‍s participation also helped the team succeed. All but three categories of competition featured at least one North Allegheny league member. 

He said he was inspired to see students from different backgrounds unite over a shared love of classical culture. 

“When people think of Latin, they automatically think that it’‍s dead and that it’‍s not useful. They’‍re right in some aspects,” he said. “But it’‍s more than just speaking a language. You can appreciate [ancient Greek and Roman] culture through it, and you can read some great ancient texts that have things lost in translation.” 

In addition to the team’‍s overall championship title, the Level 1 Certamen Team ninth-graders finished first. Certamen is a game requiring fast recall of facts about classical civilizations. The members are Gunasheil Mandava, Julia Maruca, Remi Akindele, Kathryn Barancyk, Jane Venezia and Eric Ricci. 

Gunasheil also won the Overall Academic Award, and sophomore Ashwin Reddy earned the Individual Overall Champion Award.

Marisa Iati:, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati.

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