By Jason Burnstein, Movement and Circus Arts Teacher
The moment we turned off of the road running along the Mississippi River and headed into the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin, I felt that feeling in my soul like I was returning to home after my first time away at college. This special place that has held countless memories from past Pentathlons sat like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. For the first time in three years, four Waldorf schools from the Midwest region would be participating in this annual sporting event that occurs around the entire globe. As a culmination of their studies in ancient Greece, fifth graders are given the opportunity to participate in a five-event competition involving running, long jump, wrestling, discus, and javelin.
The fifth grade Pentathlon is unlike any other sporting event. Unlike many competitions that place an emphasis on the truth or “measure” in each event, our Pentathlon model recognizes the striving towards excellence in each of the students and honors both the Truth and the Beauty (the best form and dynamic) in each of the events. Whereas traditional models honor only the speed of the runner, the distance of the jump or the throw of the javelin and discus, our model allows the opportunity for each student to be truly seen and later acknowledged for the genuine effort they place in their attempts to reach towards the archetypal forms of each event. Witnessing each child striving for excellence is truly a wonder to behold.
I was recently pondering the developmental significance of such an event. I firmly believe that competition is not a bad thing. There are many gifts to be learned from healthy competition; especially when brought to an individual at a stage of development when they can handle the strong emotions that accompany the highs and lows of winning and losing. What we are offering the fifth graders as they have one foot still in childhood and the other stepping firmly into adolescence, is the opportunity to experience the power of applying oneself fully to learning new skills and to gain an inner satisfaction from their own personal growth and attempts separate from the purely physical results in comparison to others. We allow the students to face a healthy level of difficulty and stress and we honor their efforts by creating a structure to the event that allows each individual to be recognized for those efforts; thus building resilience, confidence, and a love for healthy competition and sport that will last a lifetime.
This year, the students approached the games with a calm sense of confidence and an enthusiasm to do their best and to see the best in others. I had the pleasure of running the wrestling event and was amazed at the strength and beauty that was demonstrated in all of their matches. Watching the students participate in the finals brought smiles of satisfaction as I witnessed some of the fastest runs, longest jumps, and farthest throws that I had ever seen from many of our students. At the end of the Pentathlon each student stood tall with a wreath on their head and a medal around their neck. Their voices rang out as they sang in unison an ode to Apollo, the sun God, and the vessel of that magical space was once more filled with long lasting memories of a truly meaningful competition.