George Kennedy, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School, had a difficult task as a writer. How do you improve on a story that's been in the world for thousands of years?
This year, as part of its unit on Greek mythology, George's class read about the 12 labors of Hercules -- a series of legendary feats that include slaying a hydra, capturing a lion for its pelt and driving away an enormous flock of birds. George and his classmates had a labor of their own -- to add a 13th task to Hercules' itinerary. The 12-year-old Newport Beach resident came up with a yarn worthy of Homer himself.
"He had to fight a two-headed mountain lion and bring it back to the king without killing it," George said. "It grew stronger the more you fought it. If you made it bleed, it grew three more heads."
As with most Greek legends, George's tale ended with divine intervention. Hercules called on the sea god Poseidon to freeze the mountain lion and then brought it back to the king without a scratch.
Earlier this month at Lincoln, George and the rest of the sixth-grade class capped off their unit with another beloved part of Greek culture. On an overcast Wednesday morning that had one teacher grumbling about "the gods getting a little gnarly," the students donned tunics and wreaths to re-create the ancient Olympic games.
Sixth-grade teachers Nancy Urricariet, Judy Taylor and Claire Ratfield led their classes in javelin-throwing, discus-throwing and arm wrestling, and then they competed against one another in relay races and a tug-of-war.
The classes dubbed themselves the Trojans, Athenians and Spartans, after the three sides in the Trojan War. Historically, it was a bit of an uneven match, since the latter two armies famously walloped the Trojans in the 10-year conflict.
"We feel powerful," said Madison Vitarelli, 12, a member of the Spartans.
Of the major events in the Olympics, arm wrestling was probably the only one that didn't change much from 3,000 years ago.
The discus competition involved tossing a Frisbee into the middle of a Hula Hoop, while for the javelin throw, students hurled straws with chewing gum stuck to one end.
Students made tunics out of bedsheets from home, and one participant's Greek heritage came in handy with the accessories.
Ashley McCarthy, 12, got her mother to make wreaths for students to wear on their heads, and also to provide some of the Greek-style food for refreshments.
For Ashley, the Greek mythology unit was an introduction into parts of her culture.
"I knew a little bit -- some of the gods and a couple of the myths," she said.
As for her favorite character: "I liked Pegasus the horse. He seemed like he always saved the day."