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West Hernando students win gold in Brain Bowl

In a dramatic finish, the middle school defeated Fox Chapel in the academic competition's championship.

Kevin Olds tried hard to grip the buzzer. But the eighth-grader's palm was sweaty, making the small gadget slip in his hand. Still, he peered intently ahead, waiting with his teammates and five opponents for the last question, unsure of the score.

"Because lovers cannot see each other's weaknesses and flaws," began Ann-Gayl Veach, reading the question, "it is said that love is . . . "

Kevin squeezed the buzzer. Veach and all eyes in the audience looked to him. He looked down at the buzzer. It flashed red. He was on.

"Blind," Olds said flatly.

A roar filled half the cavernous cafeteria at Parrott Middle School as students and parents jumped in the air, hugging and slapping high fives.

With Olds' quick finger and right answer, he and his team from West Hernando Middle School beat Fox Chapel Middle School and claimed victory Saturday in the 2001 Brain Bowl _ a showdown of gray matter featuring questions on everything from past presidents to sea life.

The two schools had landed in the championship round after three earlier competitions that included matchups with Parrott and Powell middle schools. Powell won only one of the three earlier rounds. Parrott lost them all. Fox Chapel won all three, but failed to claim the title when it slipped in the championship.

The event marked the ninth year for the Brain Bowl, organized and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Spring Hill to provide a fun, competitive outlet for academics. It turned out to have as much drama as a homecoming football game.

"They are very intense and extremely nervous," said Kevin Coit, chairman of the Brain Bowl for the Rotary Club. "It makes me nervous because we just want to make sure they have fun."

Indeed, the tension was visible in the slanted bodies of parents leaning forward in their seats and tapping their fingers on their legs or on tables. At one point, when West Hernando's coach, Don Kern, told a student from Fox Chapel during a round that he didn't answer the question at hand, one parent yelled out, "Ah, shut up."

Otherwise, the rounds went smoothly.

Each round consisted of two parts, each with 28 questions on math, science, geography or current events. The teams, made up of 10 players and alternates, played five members at a time for each part of a round.

Kern, an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher, said that to prepare, he practiced every day with the team for more than a month during lunch breaks. He told them to read the newspaper and newsmagazines and watch the news and the game show Jeopardy!.

"The main thing is, this gets the kids to be aware of everything that goes on around them," he said.

All 12 members of West Hernando Middle School received gold medals. They are: Emily Ross, Christopher Coit, Sara Tooman, Kevin Olds, Tonya Keefe, John McDonald, Aaron Hedick, Alicia Roberts, Matt Pagano, Kyle Gibson, C.J. Horvath and David Hulme.

Fox Chapel students received silver medals, and the other two schools shared the bronze.

Aside from the tokens, Kevin and his teammates won bragging rights against Fox Chapel, which is considered a grade-A school under Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test standards, parents and students said. West Hernando received a C, they said.

But the bragging would have to wait for another time. Kevin, 13, who had been filled with anxiety before the Brain Bowl, was famished.

"He couldn't even eat breakfast this morning," said his mother, Kerry Olds.

"Speaking of food," Kevin said, motioning to the door.