Students beef up Spanish class with bullfight

by Emily Armentrout


On Thursday, March 27, a Spanish tradition, dating back to 1133, was brought to life at Wabash Middle School. Spanish teacher Abi Armentrout, along with the help from fellow educators Sarah Andrews, Wil Woodruff and Jake O’Neill, created a traditional bullfight, including a running of the bulls, with her Spanish 1 students.

“Getting the other teachers on board wasn’t difficult. Mrs. Andrews, Mr. Woodruff and Mr. O’Neill all saw the teaching opportunities for their own classes in the project,” explained Armentrout. “They have each done a fantastic job of preparing their students and contributing ideas to the design and execution of this project. Each of them has been a great partner to work with and brainstorm ideas with,” Armentrout said of her co-workers.

The students’ feelings about the project were a different story when she first approached them with her idea. “Initially, they were unsure about the project,” Armentrout told The Paper.

“I thought it was going to be embarrassing [when she first told us about it],” added Matt Stein.

“I don’t know why, but I thought we were going to use a real bull,” said Gage Miller.

“I was interested to see how it would work,” added Zoe Denney.

This project began for the students back in early February, but the idea began for Armentrout long before she approached the administration. “I wanted to create a cultural experience for the students that they may never get an opportunity to have otherwise,” Armentrout told The Paper.

Day one of the project began with students researching the parts they were assigned, after a contest to decide who would be the matador. Research included watching bullfighting videos to learn movements and start brainstorming costume and prop ideas. The Spanish students, with the help of the art students and Armentrout’s mother, created all the props and costumes used to depict the bullfight.

“I feel hands on learning is very effective and I wanted this to be the kind of experience the kids would remember. Project based learning is very important in my classroom because I feel it helps the students have ownership of their learning. It involves them on a much deeper level,” said Armentrout of why the project was so important to the class.

The Spanish 1 students, with help from some of Mr. O’Neill’s physical education students, put on a traditional Spanish-style bullfight, which has an entry parade and three stages. At a trumpet call by Mr. Woodruff, the bulls and runners started their run at the far end of the sixth grade hallway with middle school students and faculty lining both sides of the hall. The students participated in an encierro, or “running of the bulls,” like people would observe during the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona.

Following the encierro, students moved into Coolman Gym for the parade and three-stage bullfight. The parade, with music performed by the Wabash Middle School band, is traditionally led by el presidente of the bullfight, portrayed by Jake O’Neill. The picadores, who are mounted on horses and armed with varas or lances, follow el presidente. Following the picadores are the capotes and the banderilleros, with the matador bringing up the rear.

Stage one pits the bull against the picadores, in this case, John Stewart, Kennedy Brackett and Ayden Kocher. The picadores are on horse back during this stage of the fight. Their horses are heavily padded to protect them while the picadores attempt to stab the bull’s neck muscles to weaken the bull for the coming stages. The “horses” used in this bullfight were made completely by Wabash Middle School students.

After the bull is weakened, stage two begins, which brings in the banderilleros, who attempted to jab barbed darts, or banderillas, into the bull’s shoulders. Kia Jessee, Kaed Koehler and Tristian Erikson played the banderilleros. The students wore black pants, with gold accents and white shirts, which is traditional garb for banderilleros. They also created their own banderillas out of gift-wrap tubes and tissue paper. The purpose of stage two is to further weaken the bull for the matador to fight. Stage two ended with the bull escaping, being chased down, and returned to the arena. Austin Vinopal and Kory Fuller portrayed the bull running around the arena during the first two rounds. Brayden Lutz and Seth Yeadon portrayed the bull that returned to the arena to fight the matador.

Stage three brings in the matador, who has been studying the bull’s movements throughout the first two stages. The matador, Luke Mattern, was dressed in a traditional ensemble of black with gold accents. Mattern carried a sword and the traditional red cape, which is purely out of tradition because bulls are color blind. During stage three, as the bull is weakened, it is also enraged from the repeated stabbing it has received over the first two stages, which causes the bull’s charging to become more dangerous to the matador. The capotes are also in the arena to distract the bull if the matador gets knocked down. Abony Petty, Matthew Stein and Gage Miller portrayed the capotes.

El presidente of the bullfight has the special job of deciding if the bull must die or sparing the bull’s life if it fought bravely. El Presidente O’Neill decided to spare the bull’s life. The crowd threw their handmade flowers into the arena afterwards, signifying their appreciation of the matador.

Also a part of the project were some of Mr. O’Neill’s students, including Jacob Bruss, Ashley Crist, Nickie Learned, Gabby Nicholas, Austin Weiland, Christian Stiles, Seth Thomas, and Alec Witaker, with Michael Cordes, Allison Bartoo, Isaac Machette, Emilly Martin, Abi Hobson, and Madisyn DeBoard helping as well.

As this project comes to an end and the students prepare for Spring Break, the Spanish I students had words of wisdom to pass on to the coming participants of what Armentrout hopes will be an annual project at the school.

Kory Fuller said, “it might seem boring at first but it gets fun when you actually get into it.”

Zoe Denney added, “Just have fun with it. It’s a cool project, you just need to know what you’re doing.”

Kia Jessee recommends “practice. Practice by yourself,” and Luke Mattern said, “definitely look forward to [this project], because it was probably the most fun I’ve had all year in this class.”

As Armentrout prepares to visit Spain and attend a bullfight, she hopes to bring more authenticity back to this project next year to give her students an experience they will never forget.

To see more pictures from their project, check out The Paper's Facebook page.

Posted on 2014 Apr 01