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In Kankakee, Olympic connections multiply

Saturday’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

In Kankakee, Olympic connections multiply

The WISCH LIST

Feb. 27, 2010

Sure, Olympic gold medalists Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller might be able to criss-cross snowscapes quicker than an avalanche.

But how fast can they multiply?

“One girl in my class, she did an amazing feat,” 12-year-old Jimmy Pentuic, a sixth-grader at Kennedy Middle School in Kankakee, explained earlier this week with an Olympic-sized dose of excitement. “She did 100 multiplication problems in one minute and 30 seconds. And she got them all right in that amount of time.

“I got them all correct, too. But it took me two minutes and 30 seconds.”

Hey, what’s a Perfect 10, when you’re talking Perfect 100s?

Last I checked, at the 2010 Winter Games– which wrap up Sunday evening in Vancouver – they had handed out Olympic medals for curling, ice dancing, speed skating a bevy of other frost-tipped sports, but there hadn’t been a single one awarded for math.

Or for art.

Or book reading, or essay writing.

Thankfully, though, those bases were all covered in Kankakee on Friday afternoon.

In conjunction with the Olympics, 18 classes of fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Kennedy spent the past two weeks staging their own brand of “Winter Games.” And on Friday, they capped things off with a “Closing Ceremonies” celebration at the school.

During the competition, students’ academic strengths were put to test in a variety of events that included writing essays either for or against Olympic sponsorship, keeping track of how many minutes they read during the Games and creating posters modeled after the Olympic theme, “With Glowing Hearts.”

Students also took part in athletic competitions in P.E. and each classroom was also assigned a foreign country to root on and learn about during the course of the Vancouver Games.

“The kids, it’s given them a lot more of a vested interest in the Olympics,” explained Maureen Sandusky-English, a sixth-grade teacher at Kennedy and the sister of United States Olympic Committee Chief Communications Officer Pat Sandusky.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a cool way to learn about the Olympics,” Pentuic echoed. “We have fun activities that go beyond just watching the Olympics. Instead, we’re actually learning about it and its history.”

One big way the students at Kennedy learned was via Pat Sandusky, who helped bring Vancouver to Kankakee by carrying a little piece of Kankakee to Vancouver.

Kennedy principal Betty Peters-Lambert sent to Sandusky a paper version of the school’s mascot, the Kennedy Brave. Pat and his wife then carried “Flat Kennedy” to several different Olympic events and spots all over Vancouver, snapping photos and e-mailing them to the school.

Sandusky also answered questions from the students via e-mail, educating them about the Olympic Games — “I didn’t now the Winter Olympics started within the last 100 years,” Pentuic said. “I thought it was really old. Kind of like the Summer Olympics are dating back to Athens.” — and wrote letters detailing his own Vancouver journey.

“I was able to attend the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night,” Sandusky wrote to the Kennedy students at the outset of the Games. “It was astonishing. As an Olympic spokesman I was able to ride the bus with the American athletes to the event.

“They were all so nice and I even was able to get a picture with Shaun White, a snowboarder nicknamed ‘The Flying Tomato.’ He’s a gold medal hopeful!”

Yeah, but let’s see him do his times tables.

iO on Chicago

When you think of Chicago Olympians, names like Shani Davis, Evan Lysacek and Patrick Kane are probably the first that come to mind.

And names like Chris Farley, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert are probably about the last.

But the latter three are local Olympians, too.

Just of a different sort.

Chicago, world-renowned for its improvisational and sketch comedy thanks in large part to Second City theater, is also home to another famous improv theater, the iO, located at 3541 N. Clark St., just south of Wrigley Field.

Known as the “Improv Olympics” when the likes of Farley, Fey, Colbert and many other now-famous comedians trained and performed there, the theater changed its name in 2001 when the International Olympic Committee threatened legal action over it.

On Sunday – if you’re in the mood for an Olympic-themed road trip to watch the gold-medal hockey match at 2 p.m. – you might consider heading to Chicago and catching it at one of the many Wrigleyville pubs in the vicinity of Clark & Addison. You could then stick around for the 7 p.m. show at the nearby iO. Tickets are only $5.

And if you’re really looking to pull off an Olympic feat?

Three more iO shows begin at 10:30 p.m.

Make sure to stretch.