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Dunbar wins quick recall at 25th Governor's Cup

LOUISVILLE — This is the season when Kentucky abounds in competitions for young people in which these terms are used: rebound, dunk, foul and fast break.

This 25th anniversary Governor's Cup competition, held at Louisville's Galt House, is not one of those competitions, yet people come from across the state, by the thousands, to see it.

It just keeps getting bigger, this celebration of Kentucky smarts: About 2,600 students participated this year in one of the Governor's Cup competitions, which range from team events in quick-recall and future problem solving (proposing solutions to complex societal problems) to individual competitions in fields including composition, science and mathematics.

In the quick-recall finales of the Governor's Cup, contestants were asked about novelist Ursula Le Guin and poet Anne Sexton. They also worked to name the offspring of Oedipus and Jocasta, make quick velocity calculations, identify isomers and solve advanced math problems.

About 300 people crowded into separate conference rooms at The Galt House to watch the high-intensity competition of the middle school and high school quick-recall finals. The quick-recall rounds are the only public parts of the various competitions.

The question that ultimately won it for the team from Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, pushing it past its nemesis, Johnson Central, was spelling forsythia.

Last year Johnson Central won quick recall over Dunbar. Both teams have a strong academic team culture: Johnson Central has fielded a team since the Governor's Cup started 25 years ago, while Dunbar has won the quick-recall title eight times. Johnson Central academic team members wear black shirts and ties with the Johnson Central eagle mascot on them.

Brenda Porter, who is retired but still coaches the academic team, says the quick-recall team practices at least two hours a day, five days a week. Students participating in future problem solving, another division of academic competition, work seven days a week.

Says Abeer Sikder, a senior at Johnson Central: "I've been learning to be part of a team. It's about learning outside the box."

Brad Cantrell, a Johnson Central junior who has been on academic teams since the fourth grade, is sportsmanlike about the quick-recall loss: "It gives us something to build on . ... They were just the better team today."

Besides, Cantrell won two individual competitions.

At the middle school finals of the quick-recall competition, Pikeville High School's grade 6-8 team beat West Jessamine Middle School.

West Jessamine's team was not deterred by finishing second in quick recall: Last year it was 17th.

What has West Jessamine eighth-grader and quick-recall team captain Noah Dixon learned? A lesson about the academic equivalent of getting the drop on your opponent by buzzing in early to give the answer: "If you wait to answer until the question is over, you're going to lose."

Pikeville eighth-grader Alex Malone says he works three hours a day, five days a week. While some matches are grueling, he says, during others he can see the win coming.

Brian Fei, one of the captains of the Dunbar team, said that Johnson Central sneaked up on Dunbar last year during the final period to take the win. This year, he said, that wasn't going to happen.

"If you start relaxing, the other team can come back," Fei says.

Porter, the coach at Johnson Central, remembers the beginnings of the Governor's Cup, when a few hundred students participated and the event was far more low-key. Now the level of competition is more like that at the Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament, sans cheerleaders and pompons.

Johnson Central brought seven busloads of competitors and supporters this year.

Says Porter, sporting a large eagle brooch in support of her team's mascot: "It's as big as basketball, football. We get the same recognition. It's not hidden in a corner."