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South Whidbey's brainy ballplayers tops in state
On Saturday morning, a big pack of sleepy-eyed South Whidbey High School girls climbed aboard a bus headed for the state 2A basketball tournament.
The girls, who are members of the high school's girls basketball team, weren't going to the tournament to play. They were eliminated from the district tournament two weeks ago.
Even so, they were going as state champions.
Last month, the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that the Falcon varsity team is the smartest among all 2A squads in the state. Saturday's trip took the team to the Yakima Sun Dome, where the Falcons accepted a trophy for winning the state basketball academic championship.
The championship is the third of its kind for South Whidbey High School over the past five years. The girls cross country team won the honor twice, most recently during the 2000 running season.
Unlike on the basketball court, the Falcon girls had no special strategy to become the brightest team around. In fact, they didn't even try. It wasn't something the players were thinking about.
Junior captain Julie Robinson said winning the trophy came down to one basic fact about her team.
"Everyone on the team is pretty smart," she said.
That's a given. But how smart is smart? On the morning the girls left for the state tournament, senior Karen Schwager climbed aboard the bus with an advance placement biology book in her backpack. That figures, since she has the second-best grade point average on the team at 3.98.
Tops in the GPA department is sophomore Bronwyn Russell, whose 4.0 mark is holding two years into her high school career.
But even with all those brains, the girls were not able to figure out that they were the brainiest ballplayers around. The team's coach, Sam Lee, kept that fact a secret until late in the season. Sophomore forward Jordan Tobler said she knew Lee had something to tell the team, but was holding it in behind a mysterious smile.
"I said, 'Spit it out,' " she said.
Lee said he had been promising the girls a trip to the state tournament for weeks. Even after the Falcons were eliminated from the district playoffs, he was still able to keep his word.
The team's ability to handle hard work, both on the court and in the classroom, has been a factor in its academic success. Senior Lauren Johnson said homework is a group activity whenever the team takes the long bus rides to play games off the island.
"We help each other on the bus," she said.
Putting a political spin on their better-than-average coursework, senior post Hilary Wick said she would not have been as successful a student if it was not for the high school's four-period block schedule. The South Whidbey Board of Education voted recently to modify that schedule in the face of a year-long study of the schedule.
"Our teachers are so open," she said.
The school's current schedule also fits well with the team's game schedule. Wick said she usually missed only a few minutes of her fourth-period class when the team played on the road.
Subject specialties on the team vary. Schwager and Tobler are science lovers, while Johnson prefers English and Wick Spanish.
Senior Melissa Poolman had the hardest time coming up with a favorite subject before Saturday's trip. But like those nights she spent on the court, she responded to pressure as her teammates pressed for an answer.
"I'm pretty good at math," she said.
She certainly is.