Hundreds of fifth-grade students from Tamaqua, West Penn and St. Jerome elementary schools took part in the 21st annual D.A.R.E. Challenge recently in the gym at the Tamaqua Area Elementary School.

During the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Challenge, 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.

The event was divided into two, two-hour sessions. Serving as coaches were West Penn Township Police Officer Jason Lorah and Tamaqua Police Officers Dwayne Hacker and Mike Hobbs, who motivated the children during the program.

Some of the challenges consisted of finding worms in pudding, painting with a pig snout and filling buckets of water while wearing firefighter's gear. The grand finale involved an 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 officers asked each team some questions related to drug, alcohol, tobacco, gangs and violence. After every challenge, a few students were picked to participate in the D.A.R.E. Wall.

The D.A.R.E. Wall consisted of surprise doors, which almost always resulted with a pie in the face. Participating students were Joey Minehan, 11, of Still Creek; Cody Hamm, 11, of Tamaqua; Tim Edmonds, 11, of MaryD; Olivia Eckert, 11, of Quakake; Francesca Loduca, 11, of Tamaqua; Madison McGlinchey, 10, of Tamaqua; Emma Kuczynski, 11, of Tamaqua; Job Kranch, 10, of Tamaqua; Micheala Hagans, 11, of Blue Mountain; Bobbijo Rosso, 11, of Tamaqua; Sean Lavine, 10, of Lake Hauto; Megan Schoner, 10, of Tamaqua; Logan Hartney, 11, of West Penn; Tori Markiewicz, 11, of Hometown; and Michael Lucas, 11, of Tamaqua.

The event was sponsored by the Tamaqua D.A.R.E. committee. D.A.R.E. Committee members point out that the D.A.R.E. program teaches students important things, as well as builds a connection and bond that the students develop with police officers and law enforcement. The constant close interaction and motivation promotes trust and comfort toward the officers.

Committee members expressed 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.

Organizers talked about the loss of state funds for the D.A.R.E. program, pointing out that the survival of the program depends solely on fundraisers and caring sponsors. The committee is holding a Roast Beef Fundraising Dinner at the Tamaqua Rescue Squad, 19 Pine St., on Saturday, April 6 from noon to 6 p.m.