March Madness was in full swing at Wilbur Middle School on Thursday.
National Academic League teams from Wilbur and Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School faced off in a match of wits.
But the ambiance was similar to a basketball game, including a scoreboard and shot clock that counts down the time a student has remaining to answer a question.
And only one team could make it to the Final Four of the national tournament.
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Horace Mann, the newest team in the Wichita district, was the underdog against Wilbur, this year's district champions and 2003 national champions.
"Horace Mann came on the scene this year," said Col. Robert Hester, who oversees the district's National Academic League program.
Usually only the Wichita district's champion enters the national tournament, but this year Hester said he asked whether Horace Mann, the second-place team, could play. It won a berth into the Sweet 16 by beating a team from Baltimore and then beat a school from Texas in its next match.
Wilbur opened national play with a win over a Philadelphia school.
About 400 schools from more than a dozen school districts nationwide participate in the program. Fifteen Wichita middle schools have teams.
Wichita schools play a regular season of seven games against other schools in their district. The champions of each school district earn a chance to play in the national tournament each March.
This year, National Academic League teams in Wichita were targeted by budget cuts. There were two fewer regular season games for each school, which saved roughly $300 a match in transportation cost and officials' pay from the program's $41,000 budget, Hester said.
Most of the national tournament matches are played through video conferencing. But the proximity of the Wichita schools allowed for Thursday's face-to-face competition.
Wilbur is Horace Mann's chief rival, with Wilbur winning the first two meetings this season.
"We've been trying to beat them for a very long time," said Horace Mann eighth-grader Claudia Flores.
Horace Mann took an early lead in the opening 12-minute question-answer session. Wilbur eighth-grader Mitchell Shurtz said he was still confident in his team at that point.
"The second quarter tends to be our best," he said. "And it definitely was tonight."
Wilbur led 32-14 after two quarters.
Jasmine Takouk of Horace Mann said she joined academic league this year because it was a way to express her knowledge.
"It's a way to show people what I know," she said.
The purpose of the 20-year-old National Academic League is to give the same competitive and teamwork experiences to students who excel in academics that those who excel in athletics are provided, founder Donna Elmquist said.
"By having it a whole season, it's making it into a sport," Elmquist said. "Students get a lot of recognition."
Claudia, who has been on the Horace Mann team for two years, said her friends originally persuaded her to join. She stuck with it because of the challenge.
"They give me a random topic," said Claudia, who is part of the third-quarter team that researches and prepares an oral presentation while the first two quarters are being played. "I have no idea what they will ask."
The work of Claudia and the Horace Mann third-quarter team narrowly beat Wilbur in a presentation about CEO compensation.
But Horace Mann couldn't make up the deficit from the second quarter during the lightning-round quiz in the fourth quarter. Wilbur won 80-60.
After subdued reactions to victory and defeat, the two teams shook hands, ate granola bars and scattered to band practice, the bus or home.
Mitchell said Wilbur's Final Four game will be "sometime after spring break," which is next week. He said he didn't expect any change in practices for the high-stakes game.
"We come to a game the same every time," he said.