"Audrey, you have some explaining to do!"

Like an episode of "I Love Lucy," Principal Audrey Hicks grimaced as the whipped cream pie caromed off her face.

Her sidekick, Vice Principal Marianne O'Quinn, gamely stood her ground as she took another pie in the face.

It was going to be a long day for the administrators at Rorimer Elementary School. But "Lucy" and "Ethel" felt the pain was worth the effort the students had made to top their reading challenge.

"We asked the students to read 14,000 books by Thanksgiving. If they did, we told them we would let them throw cream pies at us," the principal explained later after being hosed off.

But right now, the Rowland administrators were fulfilling their promise. The entire school howled as students hurled their dairy delights at these towering figures of authority.

Dairy or non-dairy whipped cream?

That was about the only choice the dynamic duo had to decide before facing the entire school out on the playground.

Even the teachers grinned as their bosses whipped away white beards from a near miss.

"The kids really like these challenges. My first-grade class read more than 600 books," said teacher Dalila Arana.

She said her students kept track with reading logs. The teachers and parents would record the names of the books the kids had read at school or home.

The top reader in each class would get to "cream" the principals for their

classmates.

Little Kandace Sanchez won the honor for her first-grade class by reading 80 books. She began in September and kept reading until last week's deadline.

While too shy to talk to reporters, the little girl didn't need much encouragement to take her best shot at the principals.

The administrators fared pretty well with the primary grades. Distance and accuracy was problematic for the little ones.

Hicks and O'Quinn began taking it on the chin by the fourth-grade. As the students became taller and stronger, the principal's wraparound goggles became more important.

The stage was set for Kelly Johannessen's sixth-grade.

"Audrey is really good at motivating the students to read more. One year she even hired an elephant to get the kids to read," Johannessen said.

The principals could have used that elephant this year. To hide behind. The teacher proudly noted that her class had read 800 books.

"And they had to prove they read the book by answering 10 questions about it," she said.

Robert Herrera, 11, couldn't wait to take his turn. The tall sixth-grader said he was a pitcher on his baseball team.

"I like to read. Especially books like `Harry Potter"' said Robert, who read 64 books.

The young pitcher stepped up to the plate and accepted his plate of whipped cream.

Herrera's windup was worry of a Los Angeles Dodger with a full count. His release was superb, the creamy delight speeding toward the luckless administrator's face.

A high-speed camera would have recorded the white cloud smothering the principal's head. Droplets splattered against a backwall in an interesting shotgun pattern.

Slowly, the students rambled back to their classrooms. They chattered excitedly after being whipped to a frenzy.

A fresh-faced Hicks emerged from an inch of cream. She looked 10 years younger.

"I guess they gave me the creamy complexion I've always wanted," the principal laughed.

richard.irwin@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801