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Polson wins 3rd straight academic bowl

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CHARLO — The Polson academic bowl team took home first-place honors Feb 19, marking their third victory in as many years.

The atmosphere in Charlo’s school gymnasium was one of quiet determination during the Feb. 19 competition, as Lake County Academic Bowl teams from Ronan, Charlo, St. Ignatius and Polson faced off in a battle of minds. 

Sitting at their respective team tables piled high with paper and pencils, the competitors’ furrowed brows and intense gazes indicated extreme concentration mixed with a hint of resolve and a dash of excitement. 

“It’s nice to see an academic competition,” said Charlo coach Keith Grebetz. “We don’t see much of that. It’s amazing what the kids learn ... a lot of it is just random stuff, but a lot more of it is useful information that will help them in high school.”

Grebetz said the middle school-level competition has been running for more than 30 years. Each year, participants must fill out an application and obtain three letters of recommendation. These applications are passed around among the middle school teachers at the student’s respective school until 10 competitors are selected. 

Once teams are formed, the students participate in four competitions per year — one at every school — and answer questions from the core curriculum of history, science, math, English, Montana history, arts, sports and current events. Meets start in the middle of December and run through February, but next year’s competition will have five meets, as Arlee is joining in the fun. 

Polson won this year’s competition with 2,526 points, followed by St. Ignatius with 2,151 points, Charlo with 1,439 and Ronan with 1,163. 

While Ronan came in last, coach Claire Hibbs-Cheff said she saw improvement with every written exam and looking at the big picture, it was a great experience. 

“(The students) loved it,” she said. “I think everyone says ‘Oh, what’s it like to come in fourth? It’s last place.’ But we had a really young team and they learned so much ... it really wasn’t about the point total, just the experience of being with their peers.”

Fellow Ronan coach Turner Paddock said he enjoys the competitions because they’re a positive learning experience for kids.

“The goal, obviously, is to see some improvement and have them learn about different things they might not necessarily learn about in school. It was kind of a building year,” Paddock said of the last-place finish. “Most of our team was comprised of seventh-graders, which is hard because a lot of the questions are based on eighth grade material, but I do think that as far as the kids having fun, we accomplished that.”

Grebetz said for a successful team, a school needs to have students well-versed in every aspect of the questions. As such, he hates the term “nerd.”

“I hate that word,” he said. “You need a mix of kids to have a good team. Let’s say Jimmy is great at sports; Susie is great at science; and Billy is great at math ... that’s what it takes, so you need a good mix to have a good team.”

All students from this year’s Lake County Academic Bowl will receive a certificate of participation while Polson, the winning team, earned a first place trophy or plaque and, “Bragging rights for a full year for all of Lake County,” Grebetz said.

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