The Tamaqua area fifth grade hosted its 18th annual DARE Challenge Saturday at the Tamaqua Elementary School gymnasium.

The event was sponsored by the Tamaqua Borough, Rush and West Penn township area police departments, Tamaqua Area School District and other volunteers.

The DARE Challenge was an exciting day filled with more than 200 students from all over the school district enjoying many fun activities geared at making students realize they do not need drugs to have fun.

Brad and Kathy Murphy of "Original Sounds" started the event with the students dancing to "God Bless The USA."

Brad and Kathy have volunteered their time as entertainers since the program's beginning. They said the program was called, "Tamaqua Drug Busters" when they first started. Two of their children went through the DARE program.

Tamaqua Police Officer Dwayne Hacker saidmost of the fifth graders are half way through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education 10-week program. He said police officers rotate teaching at each of the covered schools.

Students were grouped according to classroom teacher and competed against each other during various physical and mental challenges.

One of the activities was the Feeding Time, a challenge of using your mouth only to dive into vanilla pudding to find the hidden gummy worms.

Between each physical event, Officer Hacker asked each team some questions related to drug, alcohol, tobacco, gangs, and violence.

The pig snout painting activity involved students having to wear a pig snout dipped in paint while coloring a large DARE sign.

Students donned gear from the West Penn Fire Company during the Wild, Wet and Wacky challenge. The team that caught the most wet sponges in their bucket won.

One of the best challenges involved the obstacle course, in which each student had to walk with shoe boxes on their feet, climb through boxes, avoid water bottle ambushes, slide on carpet, hula hoop, find pennies in green slime and other challenges.

After every challenge, a few students were picked to try the Wall of DARE. The wall had 10 doors which always resulted with a pie in the face and being sprayed by silly string.

DARE Committee member Lisa Shilko, a long-time volunteer, said, "The DARE program teaches students so many important things. The best result of this program is the connection and bond the students develop with police officers.

The constant close interaction and motivation promotes trust and comfort towards the officers. This will make it easier as the students grow older."

Shilko also pointed out that the increase in parental involvement has been a great asset to the program.

A record amount of 40 parents participated and helped during the event. She said that for many years, parents never really got involved. Now they are going out of their way to help as much as they can.

"It is a great thing that these volunteering parents take the extra time to help make this program get better every year as well as taking a big role in their own child's development," said Shilko.

Officer Hacker and Brad Murphy both talked about the loss of funds for the program.

DARE is no longer sponsored by federal or state grants. It is now all done via fundraisers.

Tamaqua police officer Matt Bynon informed everyone about an upcoming roast beef dinnerto be held Saturday, March 20 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Tamaqua Rescue Squad Building, located at 19 Pine St. in Tamaqua.

Supporters this year consisted of Bailey's Building Supply, Wal-Mart, Tamaqua LEO Club, students from other academic grades, and others.

On April 29, these students will hold their DARE graduation at the Tamaqua Middle School auditorium.

Shilko stressed, "Without the dedication of the many parents, sponsors, organizations, police officers and teachers, we couldn't provide this program."

Police officers stated, "No one is a loser. Everyone is a winner for learning about drugs and alcohol while also having fun."