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At school and elsewhere, special activities celebrate the Olympics


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In a classroom decked out with flags and the Olympic rings, Eden Elementary students Blaine Pulis, Dominic Jones, Judah Holt and Jonah Rankin dance to a Russian folk song. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
In a classroom decked out with flags and the Olympic rings, Eden Elementary students Blaine Pulis, Dominic Jones, Judah Holt and Jonah Rankin dance to a Russian folk song. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

Springhurst resident Elizabeth Creek goes for the gold in the ''snowball toss'' during the Olympic-style games this week at Springhurst Health Campus. The Winter Games in Russia gave activity directors - as well as schoolteachers - the perfect inspiration for activities to celebrate and learn about the games. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Springhurst resident Elizabeth Creek goes for the gold in the ''snowball toss'' during the Olympic-style games this week at Springhurst Health Campus. The Winter Games in Russia gave activity directors - as well as schoolteachers - the perfect inspiration for activities to celebrate and learn about the games. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)


GREENFIELD — What happens if during the two weeks of the Winter Olympics you put two teams of senior citizens in a room with a six-inch ball and then hand everyone a broom?

The first thing that comes to mind is that one could simply get a severe thrashing from someone with years of broom-handling experience.

Alternatively, a broomball game might break out, and if you’re playing right wing of a geriatric two-on-one breakaway to the net, there’s the ripe possibility of both happening simultaneously.

Fortunately, it was only broomball earlier this week as Greenfield’s Springhurst Health Campus and others in Hancock County celebrate the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

While the American team competing in Sochi, Russia, 5,700 miles away – the U.S. team deadlocked the medal count Friday with Norway at 13 apiece – Hancock County residents from 8 to 88 joined in Olympic-style activities of their own.

Schools used the occasion to learn about unusual sports and geography. And at Springhurst, where activity directors are always looking for ways to engage residents in physical activities, serious bragging rights – if not shiny medals – were at stake.

One day this week, Springhurst resident Elizabeth Creek was racking up points in the snowball toss – a variation of Skee ball with a fleece snowball, Sochi-style.

Creek ultimately tallied 275 points to take home the gold, narrowly edging Wilma Kracht, a former baseball and basketball player with a wicked overhand southpaw delivery.

“She’s small but mighty,” Kracht said of her opponent after the competition.

Though gracious in victory, Creek played coy when she was asked about her secret to success.

“I don’t think I have one,” she laughed.

After lighting a ceremonial cauldron during opening ceremonies this week, Springhurst residents embarked on a week-long schedule of games that included broomball, an Olympic ring toss and bobsledding.

Not actual bobsledding, as Hancock County geography lacks the requisite vertical drop, but residents constructed their own “bobsleighs” out of paper towel tubes and other readily available items and raced them down a Hot Wheels track.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” said Springhurst life enrichment director Jody Willis, who added that the broomball game brought curious staff and residents out of their rooms to find out what all the rabble-rousing was about.

And while one might argue the Springhurst games do not claim the same spotlight as those at the shores of the Black Sea, “you can drink the water here,” Willis said wryly.

With the games drawing competitors from literally every part of the globe – Luxembourg to Zimbabwe, which fields an alpine skier from a country where it hasn’t snowed in nearly 25 years – local teachers are using the Olympics’ cultural cauldron to add a little kick in the classroom.

Kindergartners in Alysse Riggle’s Eden Elementary School music class bounced, clapped and gyrated this week to “Sasha,” an educational and coordination-themed dance tune with a decidedly Russian flavor.

Though the kids weren’t really all that conversant in the finer points of the Olympics, they were apparently very happy to be able to light it up and dance like a Russian.

Split into five teams and uniting under varying international flags, Riggle’s classes garnered points for performance and behavior toward the ultimate goal of snaring a gold medal.

Unlike the Sochi games, Riggle’s were structured so everyone could win something as they learned about different places and cultures through music and song.

 “It makes them aware of what’s going on in the Olympics,” she said.

While some are inspired to compete and learn, others are channeling the 17 days of Sochi toward a more pragmatic goal: crowd control.

At Maxwell Intermediate School, fifth-grade teacher Katherine Ashley is rewarding her students for good behavior and staying on task.

The tables in her class sit beneath various international flags – Russia, Austria, Canada, Germany – and the teams are given daily points for getting down to and staying with the business at hand.

Ashley kicked off the medal race Feb. 7 with the Olympic anthem, and each day she has pulled up a medal count to remind the teams of their progress. That leads to a brief lesson on an Olympic event the kids might not know much about, “like luge, skeleton or curling,” she said.

Fifth-grader Carley Zell said the medal points coincide with classroom activity ranging from “really good” through “OK” to “not so good.”

Flying the Austrian flag earlier this week, Carley and her teammates were doing “really good,” with five golds and three silver medals.

Emersyn Frady, who counts bobsledding as her favorite winter Olympic sport, had a very simple strategy for her medal quest.

“I’m trying to make the other people around me try to be as quiet as possible,” she said.

And with 12 golds on the sheet by midweek, Olivia Herbert, who’s following the big air of snowboarding the halfpipe in Sochi, said she was going for a full gold medal sweep.

With her students focused on the games, points and Olympic gold, Ashley knows a good thing when she sees one.

“The Olympics end next weekend, but I think we’ll try to push this to spring break,” she said.

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