They had listened to their coaches' strategies and practiced Tuesdays and Thursdays as a team for weeks. They were making their three-pointers and advancing through the ranks of local teams. Yesterday, their biggest challenge yet came against a team from Colorado, a team that describes itself as farmers.
It was a slam dunk. They won 49 to 26, and are now in the Sweet 16.
But this is not college basketball, it's middle school academics. The three-pointers were correctly answered questions that ranged from politics to science to math. The league is the National Academic League, and the teams were Baltimore's Roland Park Middle School and Kit Carson, a middle school in Kit Carson, Colo. The court was a television hookup, which made the faces of the other team a little fuzzy and the voices a little garbled, but intelligible.
Today, Fallstaff Middle School in Northwest Baltimore, the runner-up in the city's National Academic League, will play as well to get into the final 16.
Between March 16 and March 31, Roland Park will play a team from St. Louis or Wisconsin in a game that is a cross between "It's Academic" and "Jeopardy."
If the team wins, it goes on to a seat in the top eight and then to the final four.
All the pupils on the team are similar, said Tiffany Holmes, a lead official yesterday and a former coach for a team from Canton Middle School that made it into the nationals another year. They are smart, like being challenged and want to do extra work. "It is an outlet for the children who weren't being challenged in the classroom. It is like a sport," she said.
Yesterday, the team scored well on questions about English and math, but fell on those about international politics.
They correctly calculated the number of apples a person can buy with $1.52, if three cost 19 cents (24), but couldn't name the first woman prime minister of Great Britain.
The questions ranged from easy to difficult. They included: "Identify the region of the country where most of the wheat is grown." (Great Plains)
"Identify the term for a dried grape and a dried plum." (raisin and prune)
"Identify the figure of speech in 'The fog comes in on little cat feet.' " (metaphor)
"Name the language most predominantly spoken in North America after English." (Spanish)
Pupils said the game has made them more likely to tuck facts away in their brains with the thought that someday they might appear as a game question.
Elihu Dietz, an eighth-grader, has been filing away facts he can use in the game for years. For instance, he said, he went to a game at the stadium and memorized how many people fill the stadium.
And frankly, said Stephanie Allred, if there was no team, "I might not study so much."
Roland Park's pupils said their team includes students with different interests and strengths. There are the math whizzes, Andrew Katona and Gordon Smith. And there are those who like to research, such as Lauren Baren, who collected a lot of information off the Internet.
But what holds the team made up of diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups together is friendship. "It is fun because most of us are friends," said Lauren Savage.
After the game, the two teams from different areas of the country and experience had a chance to talk.
"How many people are in your school?" asked a Kit Carson pupil.
"Fifteen hundred," came the answer from Roland Park.
The Kit Carson pupil's mouth dropped open. "We only have 300 people in our whole town!"
Pub Date: 3/11/98