Roland Park Middle going to 'Sweet 16' Baltimore school wins academic league round, meets Utah team next

March 13, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Roland Park Middle School's first-ever win in a preliminary round of a national academic contest yesterday was probably its team's greatest victory this season.

All factors for a tense, hard-fought match were there: evenly matched teams; a crowd of about 90 people, mostly Roland Park students and parents; and an outcome that wasn't clear until the final seconds of the last quarter. That's when undefeated Roland Park pulled away to win, 52-47, over John Story Jenks Middle School of Philadelphia to advance to the "Sweet 16" round of the National Academic League's national finals.

"All of the hard work we've done really paid off today," said Jessica Shipley, an eighth-grader. "It just goes to show: when the going gets tough, Roland Park gets going."

Roland Park got off to a bumpy start with Jenks scoring the first four points.

The questions concerned geography, literature, science and math. One example: What's another name for shooting stars? Answer: Meteorites.

The lead shifted several times, but Roland Park led by 10 points, 38-28, into the last quarter. From there, Jenks chipped away at the lead to tie the match, 45-45.

With a 46-45 lead, the Roland Park team answered a question incorrectly. The partisan audience released a sigh that echoed off the walls of the auditorium of the city school's Professional Development Center on East Northern Parkway.

Many Roland Park parents and other team members sat on the edges of their seats, watching the scoreboard, the official clock and the teams.

"I was really nervous," said Raven Johnson, an eighth-grader headed to Polytechnic Institute next year. "When our people are under pressure, we just go crazy."

When Roland Park answered the final question correctly, the 25 or so team members in the audience stood and cheered, then rushed the stage to congratulate the nine members competing in the fourth quarter.

Usually, preliminary rounds are held via satellite, but the short distance between Philadelphia and Baltimore allowed the teams to meet in person a national first.

On Tuesday, Roland Park will compete through a teleconference hookup in the second stage of the national competition, at a location to be determined. The team will face Granite Junior High School, the undefeated local winner from Salt Lake City, where the NAL originated in 1991.

Granite's team has gone undefeated in four of its five seasons, and finished second in the national finals in 1994, said Liza Fife, a Granite coach.

The Abell Foundation paid all expenses for the local competition. Sprint, the long-distance company, is picking up the bill for the national finals.

Watching from the audience yesterday was Alisha Williams, 8, an aspiring Roland Park team member. The third-grader read about the competition in the newspaper, and her grandfather William Randall brought her.

"We are trying to help her be as strong academically" as she can be, Mr. Randall said.

Many parents felt it was a win not only for Roland Park but also for the city school system.

"It shows that we have some academic stars in Baltimore City schools," said Linda Olson, mother of Brian, a Roland Park team member who is headed to Gilman School next fall.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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