March Madness!

11th an­nu­al trivia com­pet­i­tion held in Fishtown.

This year’s 11th an­nu­al March Mad­ness — an aca­dem­ic com­pet­i­tion that pits area stu­dents against one an­oth­er in a trivia chal­lenge — kicked off with a roar on March 8 when stu­dents gathered at the Shissler Re­cre­ation Cen­ter.

While the chil­dren chat­ted or nervously wondered about the ques­tions they’d have to an­swer, the room ex­ploded with ap­plause when the Phil­lie Phanat­ic, one of two spe­cial guests in at­tend­ance, waddled in­to the re­cre­ation cen­ter at 1800 Blair St.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams, the oth­er not­able guest, had a much more sub­dued en­trance than the Phanat­ic’s. Ad­or­ing fans trailed the Phil­lies mas­cot around the build­ing.

March Mad­ness is sponsored by fund­ing through the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict, and AJ Thom­son, dir­ect­or of the aca­dem­ic com­pet­i­tion, noted how the event has grown over 11 years.

ldquo;We star­ted with just ten teams and one-hun­dred kids,” he said, not­ing that more than 2,000 stu­dents have taken part in the event over the years.

This year’s com­pet­i­tion fea­tured 58 teams.

“Today is a day that shows Fishtown val­ues edu­ca­tion,” he said.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Wil­li­ams told the audi­ence that learn­ing is im­port­ant for all stu­dents and their fu­tures — even the “bad guys” who don’t do well in school but have time to change their ways.

If they don’t, they’re likely to en­counter guys like him, Wil­li­ams said, re­fer­ring to law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials in the city who put “bad guys” in jail.

“And some of them, you know, they nev­er even fin­ished high school,” Wil­li­ams told the kids. “So I’m glad to be here to re­cog­nize you all for the great things you’ve done.”

In an­oth­er mat­ter of edu­ca­tion close to the heart of the com­munity, Thom­son re­minded the audi­ence that the St. Lauren­ti­us Cath­ol­ic School, just blocks from the Shissler Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, was fa­cing clos­ure by the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia. But Fishtown’s de­sire to pro­tect loc­al edu­ca­tion fa­cil­it­ies helped per­suade the arch­diocese to re­verse its de­cision, he said.

“A group of people didn’t want us to stay open,” Thom­son said of St. Lauren­ti­us, which had a team of stu­dents take part in the multi-school March Mad­ness com­pet­i­tion. “We showed those people that they were wrong. And St. Lauren­ti­us will stay open.”

But the cel­eb­ra­tion also seemed bit­ter­sweet. An­oth­er school in the com­pet­i­tion, South Philly’s Sac­red Heart of Je­sus — a first-place win­ner for two straight years — was on the shut­down list be­cause of fin­ances and low en­roll­ment. The arch­diocese is pro­ceed­ing with plans to close the school in June and send stu­dents to oth­er in­sti­tu­tions.

In its fi­nal year of March Mad­ness, Sac­red Heart of Je­sus claimed a re­spect­able second place in the varsity cat­egory. The top win­ner was Our Lady of Port Rich­mond.

In the ju­ni­or varsity com­pet­i­tion, the win­ning squad also was from Our Lady of Port Rich­mond. Second place went to St. Lauren­ti­us. ••

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