March Madness games aren’t just for basketball.
Across the country, middle schoolers have been playing in a tournament of their own, in the National Academic League.
The bracket began with qualifiers for the Sweet Sixteen round. On April 9, two Charlotte-Mecklenburg teams will play in the Final Four.
The advancement of two CMS teams in the national bracket’s Final Four is a first, said Randolph Middle’s coach, Michael Pillsbury.
The games involve four rounds of answering a variety of questions individually and as a team, and giving presentations on a topic based on clues from the judges.
Randolph will play another North Carolina team, Hanes Magnet School from Winston-Salem, and CMS’ Crestdale Middle will take on Roland Park Middle from Baltimore.
“It would be really cool if we get to play (Randolph) for a second time,” said Crestdale eighth-grader Ben Petricoff. On the CMS circuit, Crestdale’s biggest competition is Randolph and South Charlotte Middle, members of the Crestdale team said. Crestdale beat Randolph the last time they played, and if both teams win in the Final Four, the championship would be an impassioned final match.
“We beat them the first time around, so they kind of want to beat us,” Ben said.
Crestdale’s team captain, eighth-grader Mark Schaehner, agreed it would be a tough match.
“Randolph is kind of the top dog team in our district – it’s a big thing to play them.”
But some members of the Randolph team – both Randolph and Crestdale have about 30 students on their teams – weren’t overly enthused at the prospect of facing the hometown rival.
“Crestdale is pretty good,” said team captain Matthew Janson, a Randolph eighth-grader.
He said the competition is fairly friendly between the local teams.
“Whenever we see them at Providence, we cheer them on,” he said.
Crestdale’s captain, Mark, agreed. “The competition is a lot of fun,” he said.
Crestdale made the first round of nationals last year, said a team coach, Julie Smith.
The Randolph team, which won the championship in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2009, is just happy to be in the tournament, members said.
Last year, the team had to forfeit the first game in the bracket because of technical difficulties with the video conference. Teams play by video conference instead of traveling.
“This is sort of like redemption for last year,” said team member and Randolph seventh-grader Sahil Patel.
“Well, we didn’t do anything wrong, but now we have a chance,” said eighth-grader Lloyd Liu.
Both teams understand the importance of teamwork – which they say is critical to NAL success – and were quick to praise their teammates.
“It’s pretty cool to see Mark go off. He’s very smart and he gets all these answers,” Crestdale’s Ben said.
Matthew said he was glad sixth-grader Nicholas Miklaucic joined the team this year.
“Nicholas knows a ton of stuff about everything. He’s like a random-fact treasure trove,” Matthew said.
More than anything, the students are enjoying the ride to the top, regardless of how they’ll finish.
“It’s really amazing to get this far. I knew we could do it,” said Crestdale eighth-grader Eliott Brown.
“I’m really proud of this team, and I’m just savoring it all right now.”
Ruebens: 704-358-5294; on Twitter: @YoungAchCLT
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