WINTHROP — There was no disputing that the chariot from Gardiner was a lovely thing.

Painted silver, with handles inside the compartment for passenger stability, it was decked with laurels and looked like a winner.

It was the pulling handle on the outside, however, that caused the problem: it broke mid-race.

That crushing disappointment was delivered Tuesday afternoon on the first day of the spring convention of the Maine Junior Classical League, partway through the chariot races.

This is the 60th year that students from high schools around the state have come together to celebrate all things classical.

This year, 332 students from 12 high schools will spend two days at Camp Mechuwana, competing mentally and physically in Latin and in English for a chance to win trophies, medals and ribbons. They’ll have testing, readings and Certamen, a quiz bowl. Students will elect state officers who will help plan next year’s event. They will also have a chance to travel to the National Junior Classical League Convention, which this year will be held at the end of July in Alabama.

Although Latin fell from favor as a daily spoken language more than a thousand years ago, it’s still a staple of education in high school and college, particularly for classics scholars.

“A lot of kids do Latin so they can do JCL,” Ben Johnson said. Johnson is a Latin teacher at Hampden Academy and he is also the state chairman of the Maine Junior Classical League.

“This is a way to encourage them to do hard work in class so they can be here,” Johnson said. “Everyone kind of looks forward to conventions like this.”

The other schools competing were Winthrop High School, Camden Hills Regional High School, Freeport High School, John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, Leavitt High School in Turner, Greeley High School in Cumberland, Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, Fryeburg Academy and Waterville Senior High School.

Gardiner’s chariot had its maiden run on the track at Gardiner Area High School.

If they didn’t win the chariot races, they won the battle of building the thing from scratch from plywood, construction materials and bicycle parts.

“Ours had places to grab on to,” Brooke McLaughlin, a sophomore, said. After the initial jolt when the runners dug in, she said, the ride was easy.

While other teams had a single bar with a cross bar and handles for pulling, Gardiner’s chariot had two bars to pull and that’s something they will change for next year. They also want to build a catapult, which Gardiner Latin teacher Katie Collins said would have to be completed during spring break.

The 11 students from Waterville weren’t really sure what to expect; Seth Metcalf, their teacher, said this is the first year Waterville competed. And for Tuesday’s athletics, they were prepared for all three events — chariot races, catapult and tug-of-war, an event that in ancient Greece was considered a contest of pure, physical strength.

And on Tuesday, it was an event for which cleats and gloves were a good idea.

“We wanted to be prepared,” Metcalf, said.

John Evans, a sophomore, pulled Waterville’s chariot in all of the races in which the boys pulled. Team members had not tried out the chariot before Tuesday, except for one time when they may or may not have run down a school hallway.

The Waterville team did well in the chariot races, but they are already planning to improve their vehicle, adjusting the design so the handlebar doesn’t break as it did this year.

They also did well in the catapult competition, reliably shooting a softball for most of the length of the field, but they didn’t win.

Students from Winthrop High traveled the least distance to compete, and they marshaled their effort for the tug-of war.

With grit and determination, they pulled, tugged and yanked their way to the penultimate round, in which they faced off against Waterville.

Last year, Winthrop did well in the tug of war, because they wore cleats. They forgot their cleats this year and for the first bout, they were a person short.

When asked what tug-of-war has to do with Latin, Nathan St. Pierre, Samantha Depuis and Dylan Boynton and other team members laughed.

“The Romans did it, right?” someone said.

But in the end, the cleats and the gloves of Watervllle gave them the edge over Winthrop, and Waterville went on to face Johnson’s team from Hampden Academy, which won the day.

Just two short hours after they started, the combatants cleared the muddied field and readied themselves for the evening’s slate of activities and more contests.

But before they headed off to eat and clean up, Collins, the teacher from Gardiner, was philosophical about her teams performance in the chariot race.

“Our goal was not to come in last,” she said, “But I guess someone’s got to.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

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Twitter: @JLowellKJ