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Trojan Olympics

The junior class dream team (photo courtesy of Jessica Dunn '11)

As class advisors, Trojan Olympics is our bread and butter, but it's also the bane of our existence - it's the one thing we do all year that is simultaneously exciting and rewarding, and just completely nerve-wracking and disruptive to our entire lives.

Michael, Lisa, and I are blessed to be the advisors for the class of 2011, the current juniors. (I started working with them their freshman year, and after some advisor-switching, Michael and Lisa joined me last year.) They are a very hard-working, talented, spirited group, the type of kids who make your job easy. And they are extra-special to me because they are precisely 10 years younger than me - I was the class of 2001, so the same weekend they graduate next year, I will be headed off to my 10-year class reunion.

Trojan Olympics is the capstone spirit week event of the year, if you're in ASB. The classes form teams of 40 (plus some alternates), and they compete in a gazillion events - the major categories are ticket sales (yeah, they have to sell tickets, though all the money goes to ASB), gym decorations (decorating your class' section of the gym), entrance and dance (formal team entrance into the gym, and a dance routine), games (a gazillion relays, skills games, etc), cheering section (how well you lead your class section in cheering and positivity and spirit), and the pyramid (they have to hoist each other up with props and stuff, according to theme).

TO takes months to prepare (from the inception of your class theme to four weeks' worth of practices) and hundreds of man hours from all the team members, the advisors (who need to supervise them), and any helpers/committee members. Your life pretty much stops for Trojan Olympics - the week of, I have to keep my lesson plans loose, and allow for my officers and other team members to be in and out of my room constantly. As much as I complain, I do actually like spirit week. I was a total ASB/class council nerd in high school, so I was very much like my kids, only they're better :)

So this year has felt different from previous years. In fact, I think I would even say it felt anti-climactic. Their freshman year, everything was new, and no one had any expectations, so when we beat out the then-sophomores and then-juniors to take second place behind the seniors, it shocked everyone - it was a pretty amazing moment, and it solidified their reputation as a squad to contend with. (And it made history - we're mentioned in the Trojan Olympics Wikipedia entry as being the highest-placing freshman class ever, even beating the class of 2007, who hold the record for winning first place for their last three years of high school.) Their sophomore year, I think they went in with a lot of pressure, high expectations, and two classes gunning for them specifically. They overworked and overstressed themselves, and there was some mudslinging between the classes (that carried over a little bit into the advisors, actually), and things got ugly. The kids were tired and just plain sick of it all. It was hard seeing them so down about something that is supposed to be fun. (We finished third behind the juniors and seniors, who tied for first.)

This year, towards the beginning of the process, I sat them down and told them ("As your advisor, I am advising you...") that they should keep it light this year. Last year they had put so much pressure on themselves that TO lost its fun factor, and this year, we should try to approach it with no expectations (yeah, right!) and to just enjoy the process. And you know? They did. The team practices and meetings this year have had an air of levity (that all three advisors have noticed), and everyone (as far as I could tell) just seemed to be a bit more relaxed this year. That doesn't mean they weren't working hard, but I think they were determined to rediscover what it was that they loved about TO. Our theme was Wild Wild West, and when you have a lot of galloping and yee-haws, it's hard to be intense and serious. Also, we had some brand new faces to the TO team this year (as, usually, this event tends to attract the same "types" of kids every year), and the new blood really added some energy and freshness to the mix. I told them (facetiously) that it's okay to "let the seniors have it this year," since it's usually a major sacrilege when seniors don't win.

I'm so proud of my kids for how they've stayed on top of everything this year - I believe we were the first class to finish decorating our section (and we finished all our pieces pretty well in advance of TO day), and their dance and pyramid seemed to come together easily, and without much yelling from my officers. As they were decorating, Lisa noticed how all the other advisors for the other classes were rushing all over the place, placing things here and there, and noted, "I feel bad because we're the only advisors not doing anything." (Literally, we were just standing around watching, and I think Michael had nabbed one of the tricycles and nearly ran over my foot.) I told her that this was just a testament to how good our kids are - they don't need us to do things for them. I heard a number of kids from other classes come by and say, "Wow, you guys actually have your whole team here!"

Then we all parted ways - the entire team got ready at one of the officers' homes, and we three advisors went to get some dinner together. (Michael has never had pho before, and agreed to allow his two Vietnamese co-advisors to lead the way.) We got back to campus just in time to take our team photo, and the team had some last minute practicing before it was time to go.

I really feel like every team this year was bringing their A-game - even the freshmen managed to win (or, at least, not come in last) for a bunch of the games. The sophomore decorations were absolutely amazing, and the seniors looked like they were going to take their rightful places as TO champions. The juniors played hard and cheered harder - every year, we have won the rooting section competition, and we weren't expecting any differently this year.

The entrance and dance were first, and I am glad to say that we avoided the junior curse - for the past two years, the junior class - whoever it is - has had their music cut out in the middle of the dance. This year, our dance went perfectly smoothly, other than one of our officers spraining her ankle. In fact, this year, we had more medical issues than any time I could remember - a sprained ankle, an asthma attack, a dizzy spell, some freshman with a bloody nose. I think I spent more time tending to the wounded than I did watching the events.

The games make up the bulk of the evening, and they seem pretty interminable at times, because they can take a while. We still don't have nearly as many huge guys as the seniors do, but we had some pretty big guys this year, so at least we took 2nd in the tug of war. (For the record, I'm surprised that the seniors vs. freshman tug of war did not end much more quickly.)

The pyramid is last, and as always, the juniors really delivered on this one. I can't remember how we did freshman year, but we won last year. I've noticed that we use waaaaaaay more props than the other classes.

While all this is going on, I'm just watching. It's funny that there've been a few people who've asked me, "ARE YOU READY? ARE YOU READY?" and really, I'm not the one who has to be ready. As an advisor, all of my responsibilities regarding TO were in the weeks leading up to last night. My job was to be there to support the kids, and to let them have their moment to shine. It's hard not to get caught up in their spirit - sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm a teacher, and I'm not one of them - especially considering how this was my thing in high school.

So, the juniors were having a fabulous bit of fun the whole evening (aside from the medical issues), but when it came time to announce the results, the nervous energy just went up about ten notches.

How'd it go? I'll let them tell you themselves (from their class blog):
The MC announces the results one category at a time before announcing the final tally, and I have to tell you, every time he said "And first place goes to... the juniors!", I swear, the junior section got about a gazillion decibels louder. You could cut the anticipation with a knife - there was a major undercurrent of "Could we? Did we? Might we have?" and when the final tally was announced, and second place officially went to the seniors, the place was utter pandemonium. Our kids were jumping up and down so much that they broke the trophy. (Don't worry, it's still mostly intact.)

Full disclosure: we knew the results before they announced it. Michael found out from the senior advisors about their pyramid being disqualified, and came over to Lisa and me just before they were about to announce the results, and said, "Um, hey... we won." I just about did a double-take and was like, "WHAT??? Who told you this? What happened?" Apparently there was a miscommunication about when the 15 seconds was up, and as a result, someone moved before they were supposed to.

Later on, we (the three advisors - the kids had their own celebrating to do!) were all getting some celebratory fries with one of the senior advisors, who had had to stay after to console some of his officers (who were crying, and I don't blame them at all), and he told us what he found out, which was that the points were so close that it literally came down to the pyramid competition - whoever won that one would win the whole thing. And he admitted that our pyramid was just better than the seniors' - regardless of the disqualification, we would have won the pyramid anyway, and thus, we would have won first place anyway. (He said he did not want the persons involved in the DQ to feel bad, and he didn't want the entire senior class out for their blood, because really, it wouldn't have mattered anyway.)

It's funny - in the grand scheme of life, does TO really matter? No, but when you look back at your high school years, it's really awesome to have stuff like this to remember. And for me, as an advisor, nights like last night really validate for me why I chose to do what I do - not just to advise, but to teach. I think every teacher would love to be able to see their kids reach new heights and achieve greatness, and in this case, I don't have these kids in my classes (anymore), but they are still my kids nonetheless, and even though they are so awesome that I don't have to do much, I was glad to be a part of it. I'm so proud to call them my kids. I'm not gonna lie - as I was watching them SHRIEKING all over the gym with their trophy, I teared up a little for them. It felt a little like that perfect moment at the end of a movie - I swear, there needed to be some huge swell of orchestrated music to complete the scene. And I will literally say that if it weren't for these kids (my officers and the TO kids and everyone affiliated with them), I might have been long gone by now. These are the moments that make the tough times worth it. And I'm really glad that I've had the chance to work with these kids and watch them mature over the years. To be honest, I might bawl my head off at their graduation, and someone else will have to take their cards from me to read their names.

As much as I spent all day yesterday (and all week... and all month, really), grumbling about Trojan Olympics, about the stress and the long hours and the disruption of my entire life and all my classes, the truth is that I wouldn't have had it any other way. When I'm done advising, I will miss this. (But not enough to do this again for a loooooooong time. And only if I get to keep my awesome co-advisors.)

Side note: I do feel slightly vindicated by my kids winning first place. My senior year, our theme was also Wild Wild West, but we LOST to the juniors, and everyone was pretty bitter, even though we knew they deserved it more than we did. It was just kind of a funny sort of justice to see my juniors, nine years later, beating the seniors with the same theme. (Because, of course, my kids did it better. Sorry, Bulldogs.)