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Minooka Junior High Scholastic Bowl goes to state

MINOOKA – Minooka Junior High School’s Scholastic Bowl team went nearly undefeated this year, save one loss, and made it to the state competition – just the third time in 20 years.

“We only had one regular season loss,” Minooka Scholastic Bowl coach Darren Lustik said. “It’s really hard to get [to state]. It’s the Elite 8. Out of 360-plus schools, we are in the top eight.”

The team was undefeated in the Illinois Valley Conference until they lost to Channahon, but remained in the top eight teams and headed May 9 to Peoria.

In the end, Minooka was beat out by the state champs, Lincolnshire Daniel Wright and Bloomington Junior High School. But the loss didn’t faze the Minooka students or their coaches.

“We lost to the best,” Lustik said.

The fact the team made it to state means somewhere along the line Minooka defeated other private academies to get there, said Lustik, which are schools that require admissions testing.

The season for a Scholastic Bowl team is a long one, coach Goolshan Cama said. Tryouts are held in November and matches begin in February. Students stay three times a week after school to sharpen their skills. Just eight are selected for the state team.

It takes a special kind of student to make it that far, Lustik said. A team member must have a natural aptitude, a desire to work and study hard and a supportive family.

“These kids already had prior knowledge,” Lustik said. “We can’t teach them what they know.”

The coaches help students hone their skills, come up with different and unique ways of maintaining their knowledge and help them work together as a team.

“In our society, all we ever know is sports [competitions]. There are others,” Lustik said. “This is the epitome of what life is like, working together and figuring things out.”

Each student on the state team has his or her own unique talent, be it geography, music, math or what some refer to as miscellaneous.

Joel Reedy calls himself a science and miscellaneous “nut.” He specializes in knowledge of home economics, fine arts and industrial arts.

“I also know my constellations,” Reedy said.

Madison Wittkofski was the only girl to make the state team. She felt being female gave her an edge on some of the questions, she said.

“There’s certainly question no guy is going to know,” Wittkofski said.

All eight state team students carry either a 4.0 or close GPA. This year the state team included two sixth-grade students – the regular season team is open to fifth- through eighth-graders – which is somewhat of an anomaly.

“The eighth-graders have been more exposed,” Cama said.

This is a second trip to state for Lustik and Cama who have coached together for the past eight years. They took their team to state in 2011. Minooka Junior High School also went to state in 2004.

The students work so hard academically, it’s important to get the word out about how much these kids know, Lustik said.

For the kids, it’s a great accomplishment and a feather in their caps.

“It feels good,” said Ryan Doody, a sixth-grade student. “I feel pretty proud of myself.”

“It was good to finally make it. I’ve been on [the team] all four years,” said team captain Tim Doody, an eighth-grader. “This is the first time we have made it to state.”

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