Sporting spuds

Sandy Knoll holds ‘Potato Olympics’

Sandy Knoll Elementary School teacher Nancy Usitalo helps third-graders Braylon Zdunek, holding the flame at left, and Adam Posvech, also holding the flame, in the opening ceremony of the school’s Potato Olympics. The event, which was held Friday, involved using potatoes in a variety of Winter Olympics-style games. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — The halls of Sandy Knoll Elementary School were filled Friday with the sound of stately trumpets and the footsteps of kids walking to that sound.

If the song was familiar to them, it’s because it was a tune often played on television during the Olympics — not the famous opening theme, but transition music between events.

It was no less ceremonial, though, even if it weren’t the real Winter Olympics, the Opening Ceremonies of which are set to begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The song marked the beginning of Sandy Knoll’s “Potato Olympics” in which third-graders took part in typical Winter Olympic sports, only on a smaller scale — and with the root crops.

Sandy Knoll teacher Nancy Usitalo led the event along with fellow teachers Jodi Miller and Tom Morrison.

Student-made signs listing the rules of various Olympic Winter events dot the Sandy Knoll Elementary School landscape Friday at its Potato Olympics. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Once the students marched from inside the school to the cold, snowy outside, Usitalo started their Olympics with having the kids recite the Olympic Creed and Olympic Oath.

They were inspirational words, which included the line: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part just like the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

There were special words for the Sandy Knoll Games as well: “In the name of all participants, I promise that we will take part in the Sandy Knoll Potato Olympics, respecting and abiding by the rules in the true spirit of sportsmanship.

“Well said, potatoes and coaches.”

An artificial paper flame even was “lit” and was to stay lit during the duration of the Games.

Usitalo said the students have been learning about the upcoming Winter Olympics.

“We’ve been integrating the learning of the real Olympics to our curriculum, so they’ve done country reports,” Usitalo said. “We’ve done a lot of work with geography and mapping and creative writing.

“Then we wanted the kids to be involved in their own Olympics but not in a real competitive way. We wanted them to feel the thrill of the Games, so the potatoes are the athletes.”

That meant the students had to write “potato biographies,” and designed shirts and medals, she tsaid, plus Closing Ceremonies had been scheduled for Monday — an event that included eating potato chips.

Usitalo said the Potato Olympics served as a venue for their curriculum.

“The kids made all the games,” she said.

One of the games was a miniature ice skating rink, with the kids moving the potatoes in figure skating moves.

They didn’t say if they had practiced a triple axel.

Their sign did have some rules, however, including: “Take turns skating” and “Have your potato do tricks and spins.”

The sign for curling, whose sports involved a potato put in a small basket and pushed using a stick with a tennis ball attached, had instructions as well, such as: “If the potato falls out you are out” and “Don’t knock others over.”

What was the most fun part of the whole Potato Olympics experience?

Opinions probably depended on the individual student, but third-grader Luke Korpi said: “Probably making the posters and decorating our potatoes.”

The Olympics experience probably isn’t over for Luke, who he planned to watch the Olympics, his favorite event being ice hockey.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.