After an intense two hours of three-on-three basketball Wednesday afternoon at Klinger Middle School, the three boys of the M&M'Z, from McDonald-Davis Elementary, and the three girls of Banana Wana'z, from Stackpole Elementary, were crowned the champions of Centennial's annual March Madness Tournament.
"This is really exciting," said Emily Vickalitis, who celebrated the victory with teammates Amelia McGovern and Jenn Cunningham. "The other team played really well. This was not an easy win."
Their opponents, the Good Girls Gone Bad from Longstreth, managed to battle their way to the final game despite some last minute roster shuffling. Maddie Tryon could not make the game due to illness, so Jenna Rodebaugh and Kirsten Hansen had to scramble to find a replacement. Fortunately, Hannah Reimer was ready and willing to step up.
"I was sitting at home when they called," said Hannah. "My mom hurried and got us in the car and we got here just in time."
The tournament is intended to be all about just having fun, but don't tell that to Matthew Monaghan, Daulton Zeaman and Jared Meltzer from the M&M'Z. For the first time, the final tournament included both the first and second place teams from each of the individual school tournaments, a rule change that benefitted the M&M'Z.
Faced against the Angry Birds from Stackpole, Miles Hutton, Shawn McKenna and Nick Meltzer, who steamrolled their way to the final matchup, the M&M'Z had to step up their game.
"They're bigger than us," said Jared. "We had to get really aggressive and play a little more physical so they couldn't take advantage of their size."
The members of the first and second place teams each received medals, while the first place teams get to take a trophy basketball back to their home school, where it will be displayed with the year and name of the school added to the rest of the past winners listed on the ball.
The March Madness tournament began 13 years ago at Davis Elementary as the brainchild of teacher Andy Mahony. The next year, Stackpole joined the fray, the year after that McDonald Elementary got in on the action, and now it is one of the most anticipated events of the year.
"The kids start asking in October about the tournament, even though it doesn't even start until the middle of February," said Mahony, dubbed the unofficial commissioner of the March Madness tournament. "The middle schools had to start their own tournament because the kids would leave the elementary schools and miss the games."
This year, 525 fourth and fifth graders divided into 175 teams throughout Centennial battled it out for the individual school titles. Each game is divided into four minute halves and each basket counts as one point. Volunteer teachers filled in as referees and scorekeepers for the after school matchups that featured experienced and first-time players.
"That's one of the great things about the tournament," said Mahony. "Students who have never been on a basketball court before want to play just because they want to be involved. I've had more than a few come up to me years later and say they kept playing basketball because of the tournament."