Celebrating the Latin language can be taken far beyond the confines of a classroom. Last Saturday, at Albion High School, students representing 13 area middle and high schools participated in a Junior Classical League Latin certamen, or contest. The day included written tests, the certamen (which is similar to a quiz bowl), athletic events, a dance and an awards ceremony.
The written exams are given in five categories: vocabulary, derivatives (words that come from Latin), Roman civilization, Pentathlon (a combination of all of the exams) and mythology. The exams each have 50 questions, and students can choose how many exams they would like to take. Each student takes the same test, regardless of their level of Latin, which is the same as the level they are taking in school.
“I always take all of the exams, but my favorite is the mythology exam,” said Olivia Binda, a sophomore at Williamsville South High School.
Stephanie Hahn, also a sophomore at Williamsville South, disagrees as to which test is best. “I really like the derivatives test because it connects words you would say in English to Latin, which aids in learning new words and thus improving vocabulary,” she said.
The certamen is the main event of the day, and the biggest reason why Latin students come to these festivals. Three certamen teams, which can have between one and four students, compete against each other. There are four sessions of competition, each consisting of 10 questions. Like the written exams, the certamen questions are based on various topics including mythology, grammar, derivatives, culture and geography. These questions can be answered by any team, and are worth 10 points.
If the team that buzzes first has a correct answer, then they are asked two bonus questions, each worth five points. If the answer is incorrect, then the other teams are invited to take a stab at the answer. An interesting aspect of the contest is that participants do not have to wait for the reader to finish the question – if you know the answer, buzz!
In order to win the certamen, a team has to win each of their four sessions. If no teams win all four, then the victor is determined by the team that wins three or by the total number of points.
Besides the academic events, certamen also consists of several sporting events. These include pingpong, volleyball and a basketball shootout. Chess is also a noteworthy event. Remember the Exodus, an “all kinds of rock” band that originated in Albion, provided the music for the dance, which was a new addition to the event this year.
For Latin students, certamen serves several purposes.
“Certamen helps you to use the Latin that you have learned already, see what everyone else is doing at other schools, shows your improvement from last year, and who else is learning Latin,” said Catherine Nicastro, a Latin teacher at East Aurora High School. “Healthy competition is good for everyone.”
“Learning Latin will improve my SAT score,” Stephanie said.
The certamen ends with an awards ceremony. The bleachers are full of energy and cheering as the winning names and teams are called. Awards are given for first, second and third place for each level in the written exams, sporting events and the certamen.
New this year is the “Optimus” Award. The Optimus was given to the school that won the most awards relative to their number of students, and the first recipient was Amherst.
With another JCL fall festival under her belt, the only thing that Gail Taylor, a Latin teacher at Williamsville South High School, had to say is, “I am extremely proud of all my Latin students.”
Emily DelSignore is a sophomore at Williamsville South High School.