1984 Olympic torch makes 60 laps around playground Keepsake is used to reward students for reading victory

April 21, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Olympic torch carried in Annapolis in 1984 got 60 laps around the Mayo Elementary School playground Friday.

Nearly 200 children, winners of the school's reading Olympics, ran with their principal's cherished family keepsake -- and nobody dropped it.

Older students were honored to hold the unlighted torch.

"It's a lifetime experience. Not that many people get to hold one," gushed fifth-grader Daniel Goulart.

He held it high over his head as he ran because "that's what most Olympic people do when they run."

His classmate Amy Bunch, who has eight baseball trophies, was thrilled to earn the privilege.

"I felt glad I was able to be somebody who could hold an Olympic torch," she said.

Even kindergarten pupils -- two hands on the torch, please -- were excited, though not necessarily because they reached their reading goal of nine hours or because of the significance of the torch. "I can't believe I ran that fast," said Jason Michael Hill.

At one point, there were nearly as many camera-laden adults on the field as there were children in the relay. The adults weren't about to miss preserving the Olympic-style moments in which the youngsters took the piece of sports history from a runner, ran with it, gave it to the next child and trotted to the Olympic Organizing Committee (aka, the Home-School Association) for their medals.

Sam Delawder was in awe of his medal on a red, white and blue ribbon.

"I'm not going to let anybody take it away from me. I'm going to hide it so my baby brother won't take it. He'll slobber all over it," the third-grader said.

The brass torch on a leather stem belongs to Victoria Waidner, Mayo's principal, who suspected it would make an out-of-the-ordinary incentive for reading.

She was right: Participation in the reading program topped that in recent years, with most of the school's 261 students at least starting the five-week program and 190 of them reading the extra hours for medals and the torch run.

The Olympic celebration was part of the weeklong 60th anniversary festivities for the school, so all students got cake and water bottles.

Children also learned the history of the torch and of Mrs. Waidner's connection to the first modern Olympics in 1896.

Her father, Ellery Harding Clark Jr., was a 75-year-old Senior Olympian when he carried the torch one kilometer from the Naval Academy sea wall to the historic Hammond-Harwood House. He was among 13 Annapolis runners in the torch relay for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. His daughter sponsored him for $3,000.

Mrs. Waidner grew up hearing all about the 1896 games.

Her grandfather, Ellery Harding Clark Sr., was one of two Americans to win two first-place honors -- the long jump and high jump -- in Athens.

"He was a senior at Harvard at the time. He had to get special permission from the president of Harvard to go to miss class," she said. College officials let him go, but weren't completely sold on the games because they were a sports event.

Americans traveled to Athens by steamship. "You can imagine trying to practice high-jumping while the deck was pitching and rolling," Mrs. Waidner said.

Entertained at the palace, American Olympians used oranges to teach baseball to Greek Prince Constantine, she said.

Mrs. Waidner will show students one of her grandfather's medals in coming weeks. First-place medals back then were silver, not gold.

But this week, she's taking that medal and the camera her grandfather used in Athens on a 10-city Olympic promotional tour backed by Kodak. The old camera -- a Kodak -- was refurbished and works, she said.

The second medal and other memorabilia are on loan to the Olympic Organizing Committee for a traveling exhibit celebrating the centennial of the Games.

TC This year, the Olympic flame will spend two days, June 20 and 21, in Maryland on the way to opening the Summer Games in Atlanta on July 19.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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