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Pepsi games build academic superstars.

Competition Enters the Classroom

Superstar is a term generally reserved for athletes whose skill, agility, and knowledge of the game enables them to excel above opponents.

Heroes of the gridiron, the court, the track have names and faces that are recognizable from television, radio, or the fronts of cereal boxes.

But a new kind of superstar is emerging from a different type of playing field. Their equipment comprises books, pens, and paper, and their gridiron is the classroom.

Launched at the beginning of the 1991-92 school year, the Granite-Pepsi Academic Games brings some of Utah's up-and-coming scholastic heroes to the public forefront by staging a full season of bimonthly academic team competitions.

"Our culture has made heroes of athletes, and our youth are reminded every day that physical prowess and athletic skills are important in our society," wrote former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell in an article published in the February 1991 issue of Utah Business. "Public interest and press attention focused on athletic contests constantly motivate youth to perform at their outer limits in athletics.

"What would be the result if we began to focus the same amount of attention to academics that we give to athletics?" asked Bell, who also was the former superintendent of the Weber County School District and the Granite School District.

Bell's article inspired Pepsi Cola regional sales manager Ellen Robinson, who contacted him about his concept.

Pepsi's interest prompted Bell to approach his colleagues at Granite District to help get the program off to a running start.

"We [Pepsi] have several athletic recognition programs, but we could never find anything that had that kind of appeal from the academic side," said Robinson.

"[Pepsi] saw a corporate direction for the games. We knew Dr. Bell was the best from the educational standpoint, but we wanted to give the games our marketing expertise."

By the end of summer 1991, a partnership transpired between Bell, Pepsi Cola of Salt Lake, and the Granite School District. Bell supplied the idea, Pepsi supplied the money for coaches, judges and other start-up costs, and Granite District supplied students and educators.

The league now comprises eight Granite District junior high school teams that compete in a season of head-to-head, so to speak, academic games.

Each contest involves four periods of play, judges, and a scorekeeper. Schools field teams of 10 players, five "in the game" and five in reserve. The team mentor or coach, usually a teacher, can substitute players in and out of the game, and players can "foul out" for too many incorrect answers during a match. Players and spectators follow the score and time on large scoreboards donated by Utah Power.

The league has its own rule book, drafted by Bell and some of his fellow educators, and has its own commissioner assigned to enforce the rules and settle disputes between teams.

Fall season began with a series of three contests that focused entirely on math, followed by three contests each on science, English, and social studies. The league is differentiated from annual spelling bees, geography bees, or varsity quiz-style games, Bell said, because they are on going with a set schedule of competition between schools.

Some of the league's top performers have landed on the pages of local newspapers, the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, precisely meeting the intent of bringing public recognition to students who don't otherwise receive it.

"We chose to implement the games at the junior highs because senior highs have so many activities going on already," said Briant Farnsworth, Granite District assistant superintendent of instruction. "We thought it might be interesting to start them in an area where there haven't always been things for the students to compete in."

Farnsworth said that the level of student participation in school activities has increased greatly. Cheerleaders and pep bands have become a common sight at competitions.

Though only in their first season, the Granite-Pepsi Academic Games have gained national attention.

By the 1992-93 school year the games should be underway in school districts in Pensacola, Fla.; Seattle, Wash.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Pasadena, Texas. This is not to mention the likely expansion of the league to include all 15 of Granite District's junior highs and junior highs in other Utah school districts.

But expansion means money, and the words "corporate involvement" are the first to come from Bell's mouth. To get the games accepted nationally will require individual school districts to drum up their own corporate support.

Because the youth represent the future, businesses would be investing in their own futures as well.

"A student needs to want to learn," said Bell. "In all my years in education, I've seen how we've motivated kids to hone their bodies. I've just always felt that we could motivate our scholars. They're going to be our most motivated leaders and keep our country whole."

PHOTO : The Granite-Pepsi Academic Games motivate and inspire students to excel. Inset Photo: Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell

Vic Garcia is associate editor of Utah Business.
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Title Annotation:Granite-Pepsi Academic Games, a partnership between Terrel H. Bell, Pepsi Cola of Salt Lake and Granite School District promotes academic excellence utilizing bimonthly academic team competitions
Author:Garcia, Vic
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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