Originally created 01/20/05

Team relies on preparation - and prayer

Heather Ziemba hopes the third time is a charm.

That's the thought the St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School seventh-grader will have when she and seven of her peers compete in the Professional Association of Georgia Educators' Academic Bowl for Middle Grades State Semi-Final competition in Macon on Saturday.

With guidance from coaches Christine Wetzel, an after-school director, and Sylvia Mozgowiec, a fourth-grade teacher, the St. Mary's team went undefeated at the Region 12 competition in Thomson on Jan. 8, qualifying for the semifinals.

The team competed in the semifinals the past two years but didn't do well enough to advance to the state competition. On Saturday, Ms. Wetzel is planning on a different outcome.

"This year we're going to Atlanta," she said at a recent practice at the school.

"We're going to win (the semifinals)," seventh-grader David Mysona said.

The team has members from grades six through eight, but only seventh- and eighth-graders are allowed to compete.

"Regionals was fun - once we got used to it," Maggie Hennessy said of the competition, at which the participants had to buzz in quickly to answer questions on a range of topics, including authors, music, science, math, Georgia history, county seats, geography and government.

"The county seats are really hard - remembering everybody holding all the different seats in all the (Georgia) counties," Heather said.

The pupils credited their win to preparation and prayer.

"We showed no mercy," Mary Prestifilippo said.

"We had like 18 million hours of practice," Emily Bragg said of Ms. Wetzel's study regimen, which began in September with team practices from 7 to 8 a.m. twice a week, plus extra one-on-one sessions with math and literature teachers twice a week.

A number of the teams in the regional competition had all-new members competing, and many didn't know what to expect, which played in St. Mary's favor, Maggie Grady said.

Maggie Hennessy agreed.

"Other teams told us they had only been studying for like two weeks," she said.

Ms. Wetzel, a former St. Mary's basketball coach who started the academic team six years ago, said she researches books, encyclopedias, the Internet, booklets of questions from previous years' competitions and other places to create study questions for the team.

"It's a lot of studying. You figure with geography alone, you open up an atlas of the world and you study it all - and that's just geography," Ms. Wetzel said. "And watching them work in competition is amazing, how they work as a team and what they know. You can study from September to January but when you get there, sometimes three-fourths (of the material) is stuff you never saw, never studied, and it's amazing to see what they know of what they haven't been taught."

Ms. Wetzel also called her team the "prayingest bunch," referring to constant prayer initiations by Emily.

"Emily had us pray like before every round," Maggie Hennessy said.

"Yeah. Pray - that was our secret," Mary added.

"We were smart, we practiced and we prayed," Heather said.

"We were representing his (Jesus') holy mother," Emily said.

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.


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