In his nine years as coach of the Emerald Coast Middle School Academics Team, Chris Hopper hasn't had a team to sweep the annual competition until now.

"This year was a good year," said the seventh grade science teacher. "We have a strong team. The eighth grade team fit together so perfectly. And I expect the younger students to sweep the competition again next year."

The Academics Team is small, but mighty with 12 students ranging from fifth to eighth grade. With the area's strong emphasis on sports, Hopper said he's proud to help lead students with little to no outlets for their academic talents.

"I've coached sports such as football, volleyball and baseball," he said. "But the team I enjoy coaching most is the Academics Team."

While Hopper lends himself to answer questions and help the team with any roadblocks, the students are primarily self-guided.

"I let them coach themselves," he said. "The captains delegate as much authority as possible."

What keeps the team strong is the lack of egos, said eighth grader Marley Davis.

"We're all know-it-alls so it balances out," she said with a laugh.

"We're just one group," added co-captain Tuck Cryar. "Everyone is equal."

Students sign up for the Academics Team for several different reasons like a love of trivia or to practice alertness but they've all stuck with it for the same reason: the friendships.

"I've kept friendships even with those who have moved on to high school," Davis said.

Davis even ended up recruiting her friend, Georgia Johnson.

"I stayed for practice one day because I was waiting for Marley and ended up joining," she said. "It's a lot more fun than I expected."

The team practices twice a week, competing against each other with the help of quiz books. If they find a weakness, Hopper is ready to step in and help. This kind of laid-back practice is refreshing for Johnson, who plays on the softball team.

"If I miss a question, I don't have to do pushups," she joked.

"With softball, we have practice everyday; it's a lot more intense," added co-captain Caitlin Laplante.

While sports teams work out the body, working out your brain is no less of a sport, Johnson said.

"I think the academics teams should get just as much credit," she said.

Since middle school Academic Teams only compete countywide, all that's left to do now is party. Hopper already made a special announcement to the school and said the team will celebrate together with a day at Baytowne Wharf. But as the eighth graders move on to high school, they still have plenty of academic competitions ahead of them.

"I expect South Walton High School to have a mighty fine team," said Hopper. "I know they will go forth and do great things."