SHERMAN, TEXAS--Some 700 to 800 Latin students from Texas middle schools, junior highs, and high schools will arrive at Austin College Saturday, February 8, for “Classics Day” and the Texas Junior Classical League (JCL) Area C Convention. Austin College is hosting the event in conjunction with Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and Greenhill School.
Robert Cape, Austin College professor of classics, serves as coordinator for the event. He said that Texas has one of the strongest Latin programs in the country in its high schools, junior high schools, and middle schools and that Texas students rank among the highest number of AP Latin students in the country, earning college credit while they are in high school. “Texas Latin students are among the best nationally, and it is a tribute to the excellent teachers we have in our state. It is also a testament to parental and school support for an academic subject that helps students in so many areas.”
At the Classics Day, students take written tests from a menu of 20 different subjects, mostly academic, including Latin grammar, reading comprehension, Greek derivatives, Roman and Greek history, and mythology, and also compete in dramatic interpretation, English and Latin oratory, sight recitation, and Roman and Greek costumes. Other competitions are in art (sculpture, painting, drawing, photography) and sports (volleyball and swimming).
One of the key competitions is a team-based College-Bowl-like quiz event called “Certamen,” the Latin word for “contest.” Cape said Certamen teams usually include the best students at each level from each school, making for a quick-paced and intellectually rich “game show” experience that also builds school pride. Winners of the competitions will be eligible to compete at the state level in April and state winners will travel to national competition this summer.
While students are serious about the competition, they also are having fun. “The students bring great energy to these competitions and are thoroughly excited about them,” Cape said. “It is awesome to see these students so deeply engaged. Anyone who thinks Latin and Greek are not relevant to the modern world and cannot excite today’s students has never seen hundreds of kids charged up for these contests. And at the state and national events, the numbers are in the thousands.”
The agenda also includes presentations on ancient medicine and archaeology by Cape and Austin College Classics faculty Martin Wells and Molly Jones-Lewis. Other Austin College faculty, including Karann Durland, professor of philosophy, will help judge some of the events.
“There is sometimes peer pressure on students not to take Latin or Greek, because they are old and not “useful,” so I find that Latin and Greek students have some special qualities,” Cape said. “They are independent, willing to go their own way; they are creative, willing to try new things; and they make connections between different areas with great facility and real eagerness. They are going to be the independent, creative, innovative thinkers who will be our next generation of business, community, and intellectual leaders.”
Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.