Battle of the brains

AJ Thompson, the director of the competition, addressed students and spectators before the event kicked off. 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 cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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