The little team that could… and did!

The little team that could… and did!
Front: Shreya Ravi and Maanasi Garg; back: Alexandru Bordanca, Walker Miller, Devanik Biswas, Sean Dobson, Isabelle Garcia, Olivia Morello, Mollie Peterson, Matt Peterson

“I wonder if…”
Little did Mollie Peterson, English teacher at James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School, know what she was getting herself into earlier this past spring when she wondered aloud to the Scholar Bowl team whether there were other competitions in which they could enter.

Leave it to Walker Miller, eighth grade student and Avondale resident, to find out.

“It didn’t take Walker 24 hours to find out all the information about other competitions,” said Mollie. “He had all the details, qualifications, entry fees, for the regionals and the national competition and thought it might be a good idea. I thought it was a wonderful idea.”

Mollie’s husband, Matt Peterson, just happens to be the Scholar Bowl Coach as well as 7th Grade Gifted Algebra/Pre-Algebra Teacher and Math Department Chair at James Weldon Johnson. Last year he led the team to victory as City Champs in Duval County and knew he would need to do the same this year before considering taking that next step.

“I said to the team ‘Let’s first make sure we are City Champs again’ and we were,” Matt explained. “Then we’ll start getting ready for the National Academic Quiz Tournament. It’s a different format and a broader variety of subjects and there would be more work on our part.”

Matt takes the Scholar Bowl seriously, holding tryouts with elimination rounds for the Duval County competition. He winnowed 30 seventh and 30 eighth grade students down to teams of eight each. For the qualifying Open Match competition in Gainesville, Matt took the school’s seven best players, including Miller.

“We won that tournament and now we had a chance for a bid to national. There were 128 spots in NAQT and Walker knew that 121 schools had already registered,” Matt said. “So we pulled over on the way home to register and got seeded in spot 123.”

Mollie noted that the team had to raise the funds for the entry fee, room and board, and travel expenses. “We had a lot of generous donors,” she said, “including parents, friends, the School Choice Office, and the PTSA.”

Prior to the national competition, Mollie experienced a stroke from an aortic dissection and was unable to continue coaching. According to Tracy Miller, mother of Walker, “The kids decided that Mollie would want them to practice so they just started practicing on their own.”

The two-day competition was held in Atlanta over Mother’s Day weekend. Coach Matt said that the team won five out of eight matches on Saturday, qualifying them for Sunday’s round.
Mollie chimed in, “Losing three times allowed them to learn how to handle that and bounce back. They handled it well. We knew we weren’t strong in sports or pop culture; it’s not part of the Duval County format. When they missed an easy pop culture question about Motown, they just laughed it off because they knew they weren’t strong in that
category.”

On May 11 the James Weldon Johnson team won four, lost two and came in at 12th place out of 128. “We were ecstatic! We got a trophy,” said Matt. “It was an overwhelming experience. All these smart students running around and there was this energy; our students were so excited.”

Additionally, Miller won second best player out of 661 players, losing to the first best player by only 0.4 points. “Walker was very humble about it and said, ‘Yes, but without the rest of my players around me I couldn’t have made it,’” said Coach Matt.

“The kids did great but I think this story is really about Matt and Mollie and their devotion to the team as well as all of the roadblocks,” said Walker’s mother Tracy. “From ‘I wonder if there is a national competition?’ to being 12th in the nation is just amazing.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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