When will the quiz bowl make primetime TV?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dec. 14, 2005

The faces of the defenders were focused on one thing &8212; protecting their territory.

The opposition had the advantage. An intense battle looked near its end.

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The challengers keyed in on the target. This could be it.

But a foolish slip, and the tide turned. The defenders leveled the playing field and gained their own advantage.

As sneakers squeaked against the polished McLaurin Elementary gym floor, hallway bragging rights lay primed for the taking.

Girls squealed. Boys pumped their fists. I sort of sat back and chuckled.

It was a made up game, I think, a couple of classics intertwined, with a dose of creativity from Coach Tom Matthews.

But it&8217;s their favorite. Well, it and kickball.

Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s homeroom goes to PE twice a week, at the same time as Ms. Bell&8217;s homeroom. So for games, there&8217;s a natural team formation &8212; one class against the other &8212; and a natural competition.

Pinball (don&8217;t try to associate it with the arcade game, it&8217;ll just confuse you) gives the kids a chance to essentially run wild with a goal in mind.

At first I thought they were playing dodge ball. The two teams line up on either side of a volleyball net and heave a soft, rubber-like ball at each other with all their might. Those who get hit are out and sit on the sidelines.

But it wasn&8217;t that easy. I think Coach Matthews saw the confusion written on my face, and called me over for the full explanation.

Each team had four or five (I can&8217;t remember) cones (pins) placed on the boundary line behind them. Two kids played outside the defined boundaries, and retrieved stray balls; the others had to stay inside the lines.

Though pegging your opponents was a goal (and fun), the main objective was to knock down all the opposing team&8217;s cones. If the ball touched a cone, all the players from the ball-throwing-team who&8217;d been sidelined could return to play.

Basically, it can go on forever. Friday, it lasted about 20 minutes.

The longer the battle, the sweeter the win.

So when Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s class knocked down the final cone on Ms. Bell&8217;s side, the celebration rivaled a conference division title win.

Competition, it consumed them.

Coach Matthews and Coach Charlie Williams realize the extent to which competition drives these kids, and they use it for the greater good. They said they like to work with the classroom teachers, taking away PE time when there are behavior problems. (Three of Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s students walked laps around the gym while the others played Friday.)

And threats from the coaches are taken seriously. Rules aren&8217;t broken in the gym.

Kids from both classes excelled at the game. They had fun, and for the most part, they did what they were supposed to do.

The coaches obviously have fun with the kids, and enjoy the competition factor, but both said they&8217;d rather see that motivation when it comes to math and reading. Those kids like that crazy game because they feel comfortable with it. They know how to play, they know what the goal is and they know how to win.

Sports build confidence and teach discipline. America has to find a way to do the same with math problems.

That&8217;s the challenge our teachers face every day. The highlights of the school day for most kids are PE and recess. In middle school, PE turns into organized sports and after school practices. Students give their all to the extracurricular, and put homework on the back burner.

It&8217;s the American way. There aren&8217;t any quiz bowls or spelling bees televised in primetime alongside the NBA finals or after the super bowl.

Children should play sports; they should love competition and they should be encouraged to do so. But until we can find a way to channel the intensity of sports into the classroom, we&8217;ll always be fighting up educational uphill battle.

Julie Finley is education reporter for The Natchez Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or