Roland Park students prove 'We're the best' School takes local title in academic contest, will advance to nationals

March 07, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Just because Roland Park Middle School's team was undefeated didn't mean students weren't nervous yesterday as they entered the local finals of a national academic contest.

They bit their fingernails, pulled their hair and furrowed their brows before beating Falstaff Middle School, 87-43, to advance to a national preliminary round here next week.

"I knew we would win," said Goodwin Chen, an eighth-grader who wants to become an astronaut. "We're the best."

The climactic moment for Roland Park came when Goodwin correctly spelled "lieutenant" as time ran out for the final quarter.

A Roland Park team member sitting in the audience shrieked. That was followed by loud cheers and hugs of teammates and coaches. Then a throng of about 25 students in white and red T-shirts ran forward to meet five teammates on stage at the city schools' Professional Development Center in Northeast Baltimore.

After a brief victory celebration, both teams lined up to slap hands as a sign of sportsmanship.

It was a scene that's usually reserved for winning athletic teams, not academic competitors.

That's not an accident. The Abell Foundation, local sponsor of the competition, hopes the hoopla surrounding the 4-year-old contest will help encourage more students to aspire to academic excellence.

"Our intention is to have a program in every city middle school eventually," said Abell's Bonnie Legro, yesterday's questioner in the competition, which resembled an intense television game show like "Jeopardy." The contest had a couple of minor glitches.

A question about the correct abbreviation for Nebraska was tossed out after the judges ruled that the official answer was wrong.

The questions are created by participants from the 23 cities in the National Academic League. The league was started in 1991 with eight junior high schools in Salt Lake City and has spread across the country.

On Tuesday, Roland Park will meet Philadelphia's top team in a preliminary round of the finals at the development center. Usually, preliminaries are held through teleconference hookups, but the short distance between Philadelphia and Baltimore allows the teams to meet in person -- a national first.

About 484 students from 16 middle schools participated in yesterday's local finals, with the top eight teams receiving trophies.

Asked if he plans to do anything differently to prepare for next week's preliminary, Marty Sharrow, a Roland Park team coach and administrator, shook his head.

"We're going to do what we've been doing all year," he said.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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