WMS academic team wins regional championship

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When the pressure's on, Woodland Middle School's academic team really knows how to shine. 

After going 4-2 and ending the season in a three-way tie for second place, the 11-member team defeated three other opponents, including one undefeated team, in the regional tournament to win the Bartow Gordon Middle School Athletic Association Academic Team Playoffs Oct. 26 at Red Top Middle School in Emerson. 

"I am super-proud of this team and how far they came this year," said Dr. Cindy Schwartz, who has coached the academic team for eight years. "I am also proud that they had confidence and never gave up. They were a gregarious group to coach."

At the regional tournament, Woodland defeated Cass Middle 195-35 in the first round, Calhoun Middle 245-110 in the semifinal round and previously unbeaten Cartersville Middle 215-125 in the finals. 

"During the championship round, there was a point when I realized numerically that we couldn’t lose," Schwartz said. "My hands began shaking, and my heart was racing. I was holding my breath. When it was over, I just wanted to yell 'yah-hoo' — so I did."

Team members, who became resident experts in one or more specialty categories used in competitions, were eighth-graders Kylie Agan (religion, math) and Aubriann Hiott (mythology, math); seventh-graders Landon Gravely (mythology), Reece Kennedy (presidents), Hannah Willoughby (animals, religion), Brendon Frankland (anatomy, general science) and Katerina Conley (amendments, geography); and sixth-graders Catie Bishop (space, earth), Rylee Davis (spelling), Hylan Westberry-Davis (wars and battles, kings and dictators, geography) and Rylan Spivey (sports).  

First-year member Kylie was elated about her team's regional championship.

"I think it’s a huge accomplishment because not only did we beat all the other teams, but we beat an undefeated team," she said. "There were good teams in the competition, and we were happy to be victorious. It’s been a while since Woodland academic team won regions so we were pretty excited."  

Kylie, 14, also was the team's top scorer, racking up an impressive total of 250 individual points — 140 during the two-month season and 110 during the tournament.

"[Being top scorer] was great," she said. "It was nice to know that I helped with our team. I’m not in other sports so it was nice to be able to contribute to the team. I don’t want to be a dead weight so I tried to do the opposite and push our team to victory."

Other top scorers during the season were Hannah with 70 points, Aubriann and Katerina with 50 points each, Brendon with 30 points, Hylan with 20 points and Landon with 10 points. Other high scorers in the tournament were Hylan, 50; Aubriann, 40; Hannah, 30; Katerina, 20; and Landon and Brendon, 10 each.

To choose her team, Schwartz, who teaches sixth-grade English language arts, said she holds tryouts that are open to all WMS students.

"The tryouts include a test over a variety of subjects," she said. "The students in each grade level with the highest scores are selected for the team." 

The team members then chose their specialties from a "given list, based upon their interest and knowledge base," Schwartz said. 

"We practice two days a week," she said. "We go over strategies, questions from prior meets and mock competitions. The students also write Kahoot — a computer quiz game — questions and challenge each other."

Kylie said she chose religion and math as her topics because they had "subject material that I could retain."

"They were subjects that I knew something about," she said. "I am one of only two eighth-graders so I felt like it was important to learn as much as I could from that level; it would be more beneficial for me to learn this than team members from the other grades."   

To become an expert on her topics, Kylie said she "basically studied using Quizlet and a couple of other apps." 

"The apps are specialized to the subjects I was studying," she said. "I had to learn a lot of the eighth-grade material that I would be learning this year anyway so I thought I would go ahead and get a head start." 

Schwartz said she can never tell at first how a season is going to go for the team. 

"At the beginning of each season, we hope to find a team representing the academic talent at Woodland," she said. "I really never know how well we will do until the season gets started. Our season coincides with cross country, and WMS cross country is historically state strong so we lose a lot of talent to that sport. This year,  WMS was able to excel in both." 

After the first couple of wins, the team members "gained momentum and really got excited about learning and studying questions," she added.

Unlike many teams, the academic team didn't have just one captain, according to Schwartz.

"There is a team captain in each round of the competition," she said. "I choose different captains each round in order to give many students the honor. The students with the most points get the chance first."

Kylie said the group's success this year was "definitely a team effort" that was led by their coach.

"We could not have won like we did if we didn’t have all the team members," she said. "There were a lot of subjects I didn’t know that my teammates were experts on. Also, our coach listened to us. She didn’t just tell us where she wanted us to play; she listened to our opinions and used our suggestions."