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

Students were accompanied by teachers, parents and police officers as they competed against each other during various physical and mental challenges developed to keep them interested in topics related to the DARE program. Cheering on the energetic students were West Penn Township Police Officer Jason Lorah and officers Dwayne Hacker and Michael Hobbs of the Tamaqua Police Department.

DJ entertainers Brad and Kathy Murphy of "Original Sounds," who have volunteered their time as entertainers since the program began, also spent time reinforcing the DARE principles.

Some of the fun activities required children to put their faces into vanilla pudding to find a gummy worm; wear a fireman's outfit as they rushed to fill a water bucket; throw sponges into a bucket; an egg toss; paint a DARE board with a strap-on pig's nose; reach into green spaghetti slime to find a penny and more.

One of the challenges involved the DARE obstacle course, in which each student had to walk with shoe boxes on his or her feet, climb through boxes, avoid a water bottle ambush, slide on carpet, jump rope and hula hoop.

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

After every challenge, a few students were picked to be victims of the Wall of DARE, whereby they were given a choice of 10 doors to open all of which resulted with a pie in the face and being sprayed by silly string. These students were given a DARE T-shirt as well.

The event was supported by the Tamaqua DARE committee, West Penn Township Police Department, Tamaqua Area School District, Tamaqua Rescue Squad and other local businesses and supporters.

Dwayne Hacker, DARE Steering Committee President for 18 years, said the students enjoy the program.

DARE Challenge Chairwoman Lisa Shilko pointed out that the DARE program teaches students important things, as well as builds a connection and bond with police officers and law enforcement.

West Penn Police Officer Jason Lorah expressed his appreciation to West Penn teacher Michele Bittner for participating with her students eight years in a row.

Committee members were thankful 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 and Officer Hacker 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.

This year's DARE graduation is set for April 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Tamaqua Area School District Auditorium.

The police officers and committee members agreed that there were no losers in the DARE program, pointing out every participant was a winner for learning about substance abuse and bullying.

"The constant close interaction and motivation promotes trust and comfort toward the officers," Shilko said.