Hundreds of fifth-grade students from Tamaqua area schools took part in the 19th annual DARE Challenge recently in the Tamaqua Elementary School gymnasium.

Students were grouped according to classroom teacher and competed against each other during various physical and mental challenges developed to show them that they don't need drugs to have fun. Coaching and cheering the students on were West Penn Township Police Officer Jason Lorah and Officers Dwayne Hacker and Michael Hobbs of the Tamaqua police.

Volunteering their time as the event's DJ and entertainers were Brad and Kathy Murphy of "Original Sounds," who have volunteered their time as entertainers since the program began. They said it was originally called "Tamaqua Drug Busters" when they first started. Officer Hacker mentioned that most of the fifth graders are half-way through the DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program. He also mentioned that police officers from Rush Township, West Penn Township, and Tamaqua dedicate time at each of the covered schools.

One of the challenges held was called Feeding Time, a challenge of using your mouth only to dive head-first into bowls of vanilla pudding in search of hidden gummy worms. Another challenge was the pig snout painting, in which students wore a pig snout dipped in paint while coloring a large DARE sign. Students wore the gear provided by 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 his or her feet, climb through boxes, avoid water bottle ambushes, slide on carpet, find pennies in green slime, jump rope, and hula hoop. Between each physical event Officer Hacker asked each team some questions related to drug, alcohol, tobacco, gangs, and violence. 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.

The event was sponsored by the Tamaqua DARE committee, Tamaqua, Rush and West Penn Township police departments, Tamaqua Area School District, and many local businesses and supporters.

DARE Committee members point out that the DARE program teaches students important things, as well as builds a connection and bond the students develop with police officers and law enforcement. The constant close interaction and motivation promotes trust and comfort toward the officers.

Officer Lorah also pointed out the program's appreciation to West Penn teacher Michele Bittner for participating with her students seven years in a row.

Committee members all stressed their appreciation to the participating students, parents, police officers, school staff, as well as the many sponsors, businesses and organizations that routinely help provide supplies, volunteers and needed funds.

Dave Murphy talked about the loss of state funds for the DARE program, pointing out that the survival of the program depends on fundraisers and caring sponsors. The committee is holding a Roast Beef Fundraising Dinner at the Tamaqua Rescue Squad located on 19 Pine St. on Saturday, April 2 from noon to 6 p.m. Another fundraiser will be held Saturday, March 20 from noon to 6 p.m., also at the rescue squad building.

The police officers and committee members agreed that there were no losers in the DARE program. Every participant was a winner for learning about drugs and alcohol while also having fun in the process.