Acing the ancient world

HARLINGEN — It all started — when?

About 2,000 years ago.

What did?

So much of modern life.

That’s one of many things that intrigued Alexander Castillo about the the study of Latin. That initial interest soon drew him to the Harlingen High School South Latin Team.

“I thought it was interesting about how things that were related 2,000 years ago still pertain to us today,” said Alexander, 16. “Everything from statues that we have now all across the U.S., they were inspired from back then.”

So compelling is his interest in the ancient world that he took 9th place in the Hellenic History category at the National Junior Classical League Convention at Troy University in Troy, Alabama.

The convention last month attracted more than 1,600 students from throughout the U.S. Young enthusiasts of Latin culture competed in such categories as Roman History, Roman – Greek Mythology, Classical Art History and Latin Literature.

Eight members of the Harlingen South team competed at the convention and performed well.

“I’m ecstatic, you know?” said their instructor, Marie Garza.

“It’s such a young program,” she said. “These kids have put so much into it. They help each other. They write flash cards. They test each other. They were testing each other at the university, every minute that they had, they were practicing.”

The students had plenty of accolades to share about Garza as well.

“I feel blessed that I had an excellent teacher and that I had excellent parents who supported me,” Alexander said. “I’m thankful to God. I studied my sheets that Mrs. Garza gave me. I just studied them and memorized flash cards.”

Shall Be Johnston, 18, took fourth place in the Hellenic History category as well as third place in the Latin Sight Prose Recitation category.

“They give you a sheet with a passage in Latin,” she said. “There were three judges. You just basically read it to the judges, and based on your pronunciation, the way you’re supposed to say it, they judge you.”

She also recalled long hours of practice and Garza’s thorough attention to the team’s progress.

“She would print out tests for us,” Shall said. “She would come in on Saturdays. Even during the summer she would come in on Saturdays and we would come in and she would just tutor us. She would give us flash cards and help us do our tests.”

Shall further related how Garza explained everything to the students and showed them where they could learn more information.

“She just put in so much effort,” she recalled.

Study of Latin, of course, has encouraged interest far beyond competition. Shall expressed a sincere interest in the study.

“It’s just so awesome to learn about the classics, the history and where we come from,” she said thoughtfully.