Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
Photography: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO
HOLLYWOOD | Two weeks before the world turned to Pyeongchang, South Korea, to watch the start of the 23rd Olympic Winter Games, students, faculty and staff at Nativity School had the opportunity to get into the Olympic spirit.
They hosted their own first Winter Olympiad Celebration to coincide with Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28-Feb. 3. The event featured a specially crafted Olympic torch and flag as well as a former Winter Olympian: Antoinette “Toni” Damigella, who competed in luge at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Yugoslavia.
“These students entered like true athletes,” said Katherine Mirto, school counselor at Nativity and coordinator of the Catholic Schools Week activities, as she watched students parade with banners just as athletes parade at the opening ceremonies of every Olympics.
Instead of nations, each class was represented by a Greek letter, ranging from Gamma, Omega, Pi, Delta, and Tau to Mu, Alpha, Sigma and Beta. In honor of the Olympic rings, classes also dressed in either blue, black, red, yellow, or green, the Olympic colors for the five major inhabited continents of the world.
“This has been a cross curricular theme,” said Principal Elena Ortiz. “All subjects have been tied in and they have all touched upon Greek mythology, the Greek games, the history of the games, and even religion.”
And while many students looked forward to the sporting activities, Nativity teachers also delved into the history of the games.
“Did you know that from 1912 to 1948 ode writing was actually an Olympic activity?” asked seventh grade teacher Lynne Moore. “Our students have been writing odes and we actually had a competition.”
Sixth grader Brittany Behnke and eighth grader Ethan Hamilton won the contest with odes dedicated to their school, and both were crowned, just as the Greek Olympians were, with a laurel wreath — a symbol of victory and honor.
Other sports activities included a pizza box relay, a discus throw (with hula hoops tossed over traffic cones), a baton relay and a free throw. But what students looked forward to the most was the students versus faculty kickball game played later in the week.
Eighth grader Lila McKeon said she was amazed by the history that they learned leading up to Nativity’s Olympics — especially the ability of nations to gather diplomatically and peacefully during the games.
“When there was war going on and the Olympics were coming they would stop war so everyone could come and compete in the Olympics,” said Lila.
Before war broke out, Damigella competed in luge at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. At 16, she was the youngest member of the U.S. luge team, and she came into the sport by a combination of rejection and encouragement.
“I wanted to be a ski jumper, but they told me nope, only the men can compete,” said Damigella. “I didn’t like that answer.”
She then tried bobsledding, and was actually ranked as the best in her age group, but was rejected again because she was a woman.
“Girls can do a lot of things now that they couldn’t do before,” she told Nativity students who were shocked to hear of so many prohibitions because of gender.
A friend finally suggested luge, where women could compete. So Damigella ran and slid all the way to a third-place ranking in the 1982 and 1983 U.S. Championships, and ninth in the 1983 World Championships. She placed 20th at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Dressed in her 1984 Sarajevo longsleeve T-shirt and Olympic rings necklace, Damigella delighted Nativity’s students and faculty by showing her Olympic memorabilia, including her luge gear and one of her sleds. She invited eighth grader Sofia Muller to try out the sled, and even coached her through some steering techniques — highly necessary when reaching speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour.
Damigella also spoke about God’s accompaniment. She remembers the numerous chaplains who accompanied the Olympic team, as well as attending Mass with fellow Olympians. Before any race, she always prayed.
“I knew that God would watch over me, but I would pray to always go faster when I went down the track,” said Damigella.
She said she thanks God for many blessings, including the opportunity for a teen such as herself, from Lake Placid, N.Y., to see the world.
“I went to Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Russia, and saw all of these different places and people and their different ways of life; all of their different cultures, all of their different religions. And it really opened my eyes up,” she said.
Now a parent at Nativity School, she is familiar with some of its student athletes, and encouraged them to continue playing their sports because it could open doors for them — not only to the world, but also to getting an education.
“Whatever you choose to do, if it’s in sports or if it’s not, if you set your mind to it, you set your goals, and you put your faith in God, you will be able to achieve whatever it is that you choose to do,” Damigella told the students. “He will bless you over and over again.”