Chicken pot pie and pepperoni pizza were steaming in the Academy of Richmond County lunch line Monday afternoon, but Marquette Reeves wasn’t interested.
As soon as the fifth period dismissal bell rang, he gathered his backpack, skipped the cafeteria and went into the gym.
During his 30-minute lunch period, which doubles as a break from teachers and classwork, Marquette is on the court each day for an intramural basketball game while his classmates watch in the bleachers.
This year, Principal Tim Spivey started an intramural lunchtime basketball league to encourage students to stay active and give them something to look forward to at school. He also turned lunch into a reward by building a Senior Cafe, where seniors dine together exclusively, which gives the underclassmen an incentive to make it to their final year.
“It’s a good experience, and it shows our kids we want to do things for them,” Spivey said. “And if you see us doing things for you, we expect you to do things for us, like come and work harder when you’re here.”
Students sign up for the league at the beginning of the school year as four- to five-member teams. During each of the two lunch periods, teams play three on three for 15-minute games, giving students time before or after to grab a quick bite.
Intramural basketball coordinator Scott Kennedy, who is also a math instructional coach, tallies the points of all the games so the highest-scoring team from each lunch period plays off in a championship at the end of the nine weeks.
About 70 students are playing in the league this nine weeks, with five teams signed up during Lunch 1 and eight playing during Lunch 2.
Because this is the debut school term of the league, the program held its first championship in December. Monday kicked off the first day of the league for the second nine weeks, giving the teams a fresh chance to make it to the playoffs.
“It’s competitive, and I like it that way,” Marquette said as he watched his teammates play across the court.
ARC freshman Bria West sat in the front row of the bleachers with three friends watching a group of boys dunk baskets just feet away. Kennedy said that only a handful of girls participate but that many students come to watch the games on their lunch break.
“It’s a good place to socialize, and it’s better than sitting at lunch in the cafeteria,” Bria said.
Spivey also changed the lunch routine this year by cutting the three lunch periods down to two and building the Senior Cafe for the upperclassmen.
The cafe, which allows seniors to eat in peace away from the rest of the school, is in the original cafeteria building, which was turned into a weight room in 1983.
The school’s maintenance department worked to install an epoxy floor over the concrete and spruced up the building with paint. The cafe has tables and flat-screen TVs, and Spivey said the school will add pingpong tables and computers this nine weeks.
Students can fill their lunch trays from the main cafeteria and take their food to their exclusive area to relax.
Senior Kierra Burton said students usually watch ESPN or CNN while chatting about “senior issues.”
“We get a lot of respect as seniors, and that’s our place,” Kierra said.
The new dynamic that basketball and senior cafe have brought to the campus has boosted morale, helping with the sometimes difficult task of getting students excited about school, Spivey said.
“It encourages our kids to work hard so they can be here for this,” he said.
Before the bell rings at the end of Lunch 2, Marquette said, he sometimes thinks about leaving the basketball court early to grab a bite in the cafeteria line before he has to head to environmental studies class. Most days, though, he wants to spend as much time playing as he can.