March 6, 1997 in Nation/World

Passing Time At Mullan High With Half The School Away For State Tournament, Remaining Students Find Creative Ways To Entertain Themselves

By The Spokesman-Review

The high school was quiet Wednesday morning. Eerily quiet.

Halls were abandoned. Classroom doors were left open. Desks sat empty.

It wasn’t the apocalypse, it was state basketball tournament time. More than half of Mullan High’s 95 students were in Boise Wednesday, since the Tiger players were at state. So were the cheerleaders. And the band. Even most of the seventh- and eighth-graders cleared out.

That left only 40-some students. When teachers’ attempts to design a fun curriculum were pooh-poohed by kids, the teens took over - designing a day of basketball, volleyball and video games. They even got to play with snakes.

“The teachers don’t want to do a lot of teaching,” said administrative assistant Bonita Erickson. More than half of the students would miss the lessons anyway.

The remaining students originally were supposed to take a trip to Silver Valley museums and the Cataldo Mission. “It fell through,” Erickson said. “The kids didn’t want to go … you can’t force them to do it.”

Frustrated teachers said fine: Students can sit around until they come up with something. After one day of that, the kids finally cracked. “I knew they’d get bored,” counselor Jim See said.

In the morning, some played basketball in the pavilion. A few junior high kids stood around, spirits still sagging from the volleyball tournament earlier.

Adam Day sat back, basketball under one arm. “We played the seniors” in volleyball, he said. “They beat us.”

“More like kicked your butts!” hollered Kortney Watts.

Well, the seniors can spike.

“Everyone’s bored,” Watts complained.

She looked forward to Friday. That’s when they could pick their own flicks. “It can’t be rated ‘R,”’ Watts griped again. “That kind of sucks.”

Then came lunchtime, and the pent-up pupils were sprung. “Don’t go walking on home!” teacher Steve Polonis warned. A few had escaped earlier.

Meanwhile, the kids in the library looked like hard-core scholars. They sat in hushed circles around tables, heads lowered in concentration. The library aide watched sleepily, chin resting on her palm.

Realizing it was lunch time, the bookworms stood up, exposing … playing cards?

“We played poker,” said a kid named Jimmy. “Now we’re jammin’.”

After lunch, a bunch fired up video games. Boom boxes competed with each other, one pumping out bass while the other rattled with buzzsaw guitar.

After an hour of that, everyone filed into the gym for an assembly. Amid pointing and whispers, Keith Wortman brought in big wooden boxes labeled “No Admittance” and “Danger.”

Wortman - dressed in a black suit and purple shirt - introduced himself. He is a part-time Amway salesman from Southern California. That, and a herpetologist. “That’s my speciality,” he started. “Exotic venomous snakes and crocodilians.”

The kids just called him “Reptile Guy.”

“I’d like to welcome you to the world of the beautiful, the exotic - and also the deadly,” went his schtick. “I’d like to assure you, the snakes ARE all still venomous … you won’t be in any danger - though I will be.”

The kids were unmoved. Then he whipped out Elvis.

“EEEEEEeeeeeeaaaaa!” exclaimed the kids, suddenly awake, eyes like hubcabs. It wasn’t because Elvis was the king. He was a tongue-flicking, writhing rattlesnake.

“He knows how to shake his tail so well,” Wortman yukked, the critter coiling around a stick.

Snakes are your friends, Wortman told the crowd. More people die from cat bites than from snake bites, he claimed.

Then, in almost the next breath, he detailed the glorious properties of venom. “I’ve seen people’s arms swell up so big, they split open. Just like a hot dog.”

He pulled out a viper. “One of the most deadly snakes in the world,” he said. After a bite, “people have been known to hit the ground dead.”

He brought out a pint-sized gator, cradling it like a Tickle Me Elmo doll. Eventually, he conned nine kids to line up and massage Goliath; 200-pounds, 17-feet of Burmese python. Its body was as big around as a coffee can.

“Ugh,” a teacher said, grimacing.

Reptile Guy finished his gig by popping the top off of a round basket. A striking, hissing, open-hooded cobra shot out.

“You’d like to kill me, wouldn’t you?” Wortman said. No one made a sound. One boy even left.

Now that beats study hall any day.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

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