The team from Tamaqua Area Middle School captured the championship of the 21st Annual ACE (Academic Challenge Eighth) competition Monday evening, but not without a battle.

This was the second year in a row Tamaqua won the title, although the champions had to withstand a challenge from a strong Northwestern Lehigh squad, which came out of the losers' bracket to hand the hosts their only defeat.

ACE pits teams of eighth grade students from eight schools in an academic scrimmage format, in which students must answer questions on a variety of subjects including mathematics, science, language arts, history and geography. Janet Kern served as moderator.

The double elimination competition began on March 1 and was held at the Tamaqua Area School District auditorium. Participating schools included Catasauqua, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern Lehigh, Palmerton, Panther Valley and host Tamaqua.

Each match consisted of three rounds. The first round featured alternating questions between the teams; the second round was 10 minutes and featured toss-up and bonus questions, with students using buzzers to answer; and the third was a five-minute "lightning round" with toss-up questions and buzzers.

Tamaqua came into the championship round undefeated, having scored wins over Palmerton, Northwestern and Lehighton, although the first Northwestern win was by a single point.

Northwestern defeated Catasauqua in its opening match before falling to Tamaqua, then bounced back through the consolation round, beating Catasauqua again and Northern Lehigh to reach the losers' bracket final Monday.

Against Lehighton, Northwestern jumped out to a 12-2 lead after one round, then withstood a second round rally on the way to a 35-22 victory and another shot at Tamaqua.

Tamaqua opened with an 8-3 lead, but Northwestern used a big second period to pull in front 32-28 and held on for a 42-34 triumph to force a winner-take-all deciding game.

In the final, the two teams fought to a 7-7 deadlock after one round, but Tamaqua surged in front 35-27 in the second round and finished with a title-clinching 39-25 victory.

"It was really fun. We didn't know what would happen; we just had fun answering the questions," said Jordan Frank, a member of the winning Tamaqua team.

"It was intense, but our advisors told us to just have fun in the last round and go for it," added Joann Butkus of the Tamaqua squad.

According to Alisa Kemmerer, co-advisor of the Tamaqua team along with Jennifer DiSante, the team members are involved in a lot of activities outside of the classroom.

"We have kids who are involved in everything from band to Drama Club to tutoring, and with all the snow we had, practice time was limited," said Kemmerer. "We made the best of the time we had. Jen and I are proud of the outcome."

In addition to Jordan Frank and Joann Butkus, Tamaqua team members also included Laura Anderson, Robert Arner, Ethan Hull and Damian Munoz.

The runner-up Northwestern Lehigh Middle School team was advised by Laura Atwater and included Leigham Breckenridge, Mallory Brinley, Sean Moyer, Michael Sipos, Nick Smith and Jonathan Turner.

The third place Lehighton team was advised by Susan McElvar and included Devin Frantz, Max McCandless, Peter Phelan, Michelle Pomposello and Kyle Troch.

Members of the Jim Thorpe team in the ACE competition included Haley Cope, Brandon Huffman, Valerie Korsick, Casey Rodriguez, Christina Slack and Katie Wagner. The advisors were Amy Burkey and Robert Lee.

Northern Lehigh team members included Marc Beleno, Nicholas Buresh, Gavin Fricker, Kelcie Kramer, Samantha Miller-Brown and Zacary Schlegel. Jeremy Battista served as advisor.

Palmerton team members were Josh Evans, Zane Goodhile, Collin Green, Andrew Nosti, Dakota Strohl and Hunter Willingham. Patti Jo Boyd was the advisor.

The Panther Valley team consisted of Lukas Damian, Tyler Devonshire, Anders Harrison, Patrick Iezzoni, Jacob Szczecina and Richelle Van Horn. Terence Bonner served as advisor.

Representing Catasauqua were Liam Bollinger, Derrick Bond, Tyler Mullin, Jacob Rusnock, Britnee Schneider and Rhaine Sziy. Judith Evans and Melissa Inselmann were co-advisors.