Battle of the brains

Six loc­al schools com­pete in the 13th An­nu­al Fishtown March Mad­ness Aca­dem­ic Com­pet­i­tion.

  • AJ Thompson, the director of the competition, addressed students and spectators before the event kicked off. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

  • Penn Treaty School volunteer Sara Baker judges the first round of competition. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

A dif­fer­ent type of March Mad­ness took place in Fishtown last Fri­day af­ter­noon at Shissler Re­cre­ation Cen­ter on the 1800 block of Blair Street. Hun­dreds of stu­dents traded bas­ket­balls for books at the 13th an­nu­al aca­dem­ic tour­na­ment.

While wait­ing her team’s turn to go on, St. Lauren­ti­us eighth-grader Leah Ian­none offered the best piece of ad­vice she re­ceived for the com­pet­i­tion.

“Try not to be nervous and do your best,” she said. 

This ad­vice cer­tainly paid off for St. Lauren­ti­us’ varsity team, which came out vic­tori­ous at this year’s com­pet­i­tion. Our Lady of Port Rich­mond took top ju­ni­or varsity hon­ors.

The tour­na­ment fea­tured six neigh­bor­hood schools, in­clud­ing Al­ex­an­der Adaire School, Hor­a­tio B. Hack­ett School, St. Lauren­ti­us School, La Salle Academy, Penn Treaty School and Our Lady of Port Rich­mond Re­gion­al Cath­ol­ic School.

Event dir­ect­or AJ Thom­son said he was ex­cited for this event, which em­phas­izes the im­port­ance of edu­ca­tion in Fishtown.

More than 2,400 stu­dents have par­ti­cip­ated in this event since the event’s in­cep­tion, Thom­son said dur­ing his in­tro­duc­tion be­fore the com­pet­i­tion star­ted.

Lifelong Fishtown res­id­ent Pat Cain, Jr. said he ad­mired Thom­son’s abil­ity to think out­side the box to cre­ate an event that brought the com­munity to­geth­er.

“AJ does a fab­ulous job put­ting this to­geth­er,” Cain said. “Most of us grew up on sports. It’s good to have an event that pro­motes know­ledge and re­wards stu­dents’ hard work in the classroom.”

Cain’s daugh­ter, Ava, is in fourth grade at St. Lauren­ti­us and a com­pet­it­or in the com­pet­i­tion.

“She put a lot of work in­to this,” Cain said.

Our Lady of Port Rich­mond second-grader Thomas Mooney said stu­dents were chosen by their teach­ers based on their grades and per­form­ance in the classroom.

Al­though the team­mates did not know each oth­er very well pri­or to the com­pet­i­tion, they be­came more fa­mil­i­ar with one an­oth­er and their aca­dem­ic strengths and weak­nesses dur­ing their thor­ough pre­par­a­tion for the big day.

“We got study sheets and quizzed each oth­er at lunch,” Mooney said. “I know my team­mates a lot bet­ter now.”

The stu­dents were not the only ones in the spot­light at this event. Sev­er­al teach­ers re­ceived “Teach­er of the Year” awards. 

Voted by the stu­dents, these teach­ers ex­hib­it ex­em­plary con­tri­bu­tions to­ward mak­ing the com­munity a bet­ter place to live.

One of those re­cip­i­ents was Adaire fifth-grade teach­er Domin­ic Pir­rone, who cred­its his stu­dents for his hon­or.

“I owe it all to the kids,” he said. “This event really boosts their con­fid­ence and gets them ex­cited to learn.”

Pir­rone said he was as anxious as the com­pet­it­ors.

“Deep down we do get nervous for them,” he said.

St. Lauren­ti­us second-grade teach­er Dolores Grif­fith agreed.

“The fur­ther along the com­pet­i­tion gets, that’s when it gets in­tense,” Grif­fith said.

Stu­dents from Penn Treaty School not only par­ti­cip­ated in the event, but mem­bers of stu­dent gov­ern­ment also vo­lun­teered, help­ing to set up and also act­ing as judges.

Penn Treaty stu­dent gov­ern­ment rep­res­ent­at­ive Sara Baker, 18, was one of the stu­dent vo­lun­teers.

“I can’t wait to see how smart these kids really are,” Baker said.

Penn Treaty teach­er and ad­visor of stu­dent gov­ern­ment Timothy Seaton said the March Mad­ness com­pet­i­tion is a nice ex­per­i­ence for the stu­dents to get in­volved with the people in the com­munity.

“Hav­ing stu­dents be here stresses the im­port­ance of get­ting in­volved,” he said. “It also shows that com­munity ser­vice and learn­ing can be fun.” ull;•

Car­o­lan Di­Fiore can be reached at cdi­

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