The catchy hooks of Nelly and the St. Lunatics blast into the vast Scottish Rite Cathedral auditorium as high school kids, hundreds of them, push and giggle their way in and get herded toward their seats by adult wranglers. Way in back, a DJ keeps the tracks pumping and whips the crowd into an occasional frenzy by calling out the names of their respective schools; in the balcony seats, nubile cheerleaders hang over the railing blowing kisses to their friends below. Spotlights zigzag the room, offering glimpses of teachers teachers! dancing in their chairs.
High school ain't like it used to be. On this day in St. Louis, it's more like "Showtime at the Apollo."
But all this hoopla is for a somewhat unexpected cause: the first St. Louis Public Schools Academic Olympics, part of the district's effort to regain full accreditation from the state and "elevate the level of popularity of academic achievement to the level of popularity of sports among our students," says school Superintendent Dr. Cleveland Hammonds, Jr.
Even more unexpectedly, it seems to be working. Students in the auditorium cheer wildly for their fellow students on the Academic Olympic teams, and during a question about literary devices, a near-scuffle breaks out between two kids in the audience who can't agree on the meaning of second person narrative. Maybe not the intended result, but it kind of gives you hope for the future.
Below, a handful of photos capturing the events at the first SLPS Academic Olympics, held February 28, 2001, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral on Lindell. Move the pointer over a thumbnail image to view the caption in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. Click on a thumbnail to view the large version.
(Wondering who won? Metro High School got first place, Gateway Institute of Technology came in second, and Vashon High School rounded out the top three.)