Academic league pits wit against wit 6 schools to join from Baltimore

February 07, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

An article in the Sunday Sun misidentified Fallstaff Middle School, one of six city schools competing in the National Academic League.

The Sun regrets the error.

Sidney Twiggs, a teacher at the city's Hamilton Middle School, believes too much emphasis is placed on students' athletic prowess and not enough on their academic ability.

That's why he is excited about a new competition about to be tried in the city school system -- participation by his and five other middle schools in the new National Academic League.


The NAL will pit teams against each other in academic competition similar to that of varsity basketball or football teams -- complete with coaches, scoreboards, shot clocks and screaming fans.

"It's something different, and there aren't any losers," Mr. Twiggs, a math teacher at the northeast Baltimore school, said yesterday at a training session for teachers and administrators to explain how the competition works.

Each of the six competing Baltimore middle schools -- Northeast, Chinquapin, Roland Park, Hamilton, West Baltimore and Fallston will field a team of 30 students and compete one-on-one in academically challenging competition every two weeks, organizers said.

Some of the topics will be math, science, social studies and language arts. In April, at the end of the academic game season, the winning Baltimore school will compete in a national playoff.

The city will conduct a trial run of league play on Thursday with six schools at three locations.

"We want to emphasize the brain as well as the brawn," said Terrel Bell, who founded the academic competition in Salt Lake City, Utah, and who was Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration.

Dr. Bell said one of the games' purposes is to motivate students to excel academically and gain recognition through their accomplishments. The middle school level was chosen, he said, because that is where students often start to lose interest in academics.

"I've been amazed at how brilliant some of the middle school kids are," Dr. Bell said. "We don't do a very good job telling the public how good they are as far as academics. It's a missing dimension from our schools."

All of the competition is extra-curricular. The league's money comes from grants, including a major one from Pepsi Cola. The city's initial participation is being paid for by the city's Abell Foundation.

Dr. Bell said he hopes the league expands to all 27 middle schools citywide, as well as to the state's 24 school districts.

Organizers said that students willingly endure long, grueling practices for school athletic teams to be able to compete and should be able to develop similar attitudes toward academic teams.

"I've seen kids that work out two to three hours a night," Dr. Bell said. "I'm not putting down athletics. I'm just saying that we ought to elevate academics to that level."

The national league formed during the 1991-1992 school year when academic teams from eight junior high schools in Salt Lake City began competing against each other. Since then, school districts from Miami, Houston, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Pueblo and Kansas City, Mo., have begun intra-city league competition.

Mr. Twiggs, from Hamilton Middle, said he had "75 kids respond" with permission slips signed by their parents the day after they learned about it. "I hope it'll work."

Ian Cohen, principal at Chinquapin Middle School, said it is often hard to motivate youngsters and that academic challenges are important for middle school students.

"Ask them who their heroes are and they'll say athletes," Mr. Cohen said. "Middle schoolers are trying to find out about themselves and this will help expose them to varied things."

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