The excited shouts of schoolchildren filled the air May 19 as hundreds of students gathered on Live Oak Waldorf School’s 40-acre campus to celebrate the 36th annual Olympic Pentathlon.

“She’s been giddy about this whole thing,” said Alicia Bardakjian, whose fifth-grade daughter would be participating in the day’s events. “It’s a rite of passage.”

The pentathlon, modeled after the athletic games of ancient Greece, represents the culmination of Waldorf students’ study of ancient cultures in the fifth grade. The very first Waldorf Pentathlon was held at Live Oak in the spring of 1986 and has since been a model for Waldorf schools around the world.

“Since we host this event, it really lives in our hearts,” said Veronica Wetterstrom, Live Oak third-grade teacher.

Almost 200 fifth-graders from 10 area Waldorf schools (private and charter) came together to participate in events in sprinting, wrestling, long jump, discus, javelin and relay races. Students from the different schools were grouped into Greek city-states to compete, which means spectators weren’t rooting for one school or one student over another.

“It’s not about trophies, it’s about the spirit of competing and good sportsmanship. There are no winners and losers, it’s about rising to the challenge,” Ms. Bardakjian said.

The day began with a gathering in the school’s outdoor amphitheater, where Zeus and his cadre of Greek gods – played by parents and alumni – invited participants to meet the challenges of the games with peace and goodwill, and accepted odes written and performed by the fifth-graders.

“No matter in winning or losing, today will be a victory,” students from Yuba River Charter School announced to Zeus and the assembled crowd of athletes, parents and teachers.

After offering their odes, the fifth-graders made their way to the school’s large central lawn, which was festooned with colorful flags and banners. The Greek gods and goddesses in attendance watched from a nearby tent – their version of Mount Olympus – as the Olympic torch was lit and the games began.

“It is amazing for me to see our school host this big event and promote a healthy spirit of competition, service and dedication to something higher than oneself,” said Live Oak fifth-grade teacher Koronado Apuzen.

With the games in full swing and the field buzzing with hundreds of excited fifth-graders, eight students from different city-states took off running in the first sprint of the day. At the finish line, amidst the cheers of onlookers, they gathered to embrace and congratulate one another on a job well done.