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Randolph beats Crestdale in national NAL championship

Randolph and Crestdale middle schools made history Tuesday facing off in the 20th annual National Academic League Championship, and the Randolph team emerged victorious.

The national championship bracket of 16 drew from 10 states and about 500 middle and junior high schools across the country, said NAL founder Donna Elmquist on Wednesday, and until this week, both teams in the championship had never come from the same school district.

NAL matches involve four quarters: First, individuals answer judges’ questions, ranging over 22 academic subject areas. In the second quarter, teams confer on answers. In the third, a smaller team group, which has had time to prepare during the earlier rounds, presents its solution to a real-world problem. Finally comes a speed round, with students buzzing in to answer.

Usually, kids face each other via video conferencing in the tournament, but this match took place live at East Mecklenburg High.

The final score was 79 to 72, which Randolph’s coach Michael Pillsbury said is close for NAL matches. Crestdale’s coach, Krystil Wade, agreed. “For two schools to both score above 70 is pretty exceptional,” she said. “They call it the battle of the smartest, and that’s definitely what it was.”

Victory was sweet for the Randolph team, which lost in league play to Crestdale this year, and whose tournament season was cut short last year by technical difficulties in videoconferencing, forcing it to forfeit. Randolph had won the national title in 2010.

Matthew Janson, an eighth-grader and captain of the Randolph team, said that because the Crestdale team was so good, the real contest came down to buzzers in the final round. “Thankfully we have quick hands,” he said.

A sample of some of the questions:

What is the United States’ first national park? (Yellowstone National Park.)

Who wrote “The Last of the Mohicans”? (James Fenimore Cooper.)

What is a major highway of Rome that’s been in use for more than 2,000 years? (The Appian Way.)

There were questions of all kinds, Matthew said, including math, history, literature, grammar, geography and “even stuff about music.” The presentation challenge was about the Stand Your Ground law.

“Having a well-rounded team really helps, because it’s really impossible for one person to know all this stuff,” he said.

Matthew said that he liked that the contest was respectful on both sides. Crestdale coach Wade said Randolph had outstanding players, and that she enjoyed watching the match. “Our team definitely played their best match, and even though they lost, I think they had a lot of pride in how they performed,” she said.

Pillsbury said that while Randolph will enjoy taking home the bronze-eagle trophy, no one really lost.

“There were no losers in that room,” he said, “because these students will go on to do great things – all of them.”

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