No one cared who won the basketball games at Buck Lodge Junior High School in Adelphi last weekend: The real game was played off the courts.
Students from the school have been pounding on doors since October trying to get businesses to pledge $15 to $100 per hour played in a basketball marathon to raise funds to fight muscular dystrophy. By the end of the marathon -- 29 1/2 hours and 4,326 points later -- 180 student had raised more than $25,000.
In the process, the students beat the previous year's fund-raising record and became the leading public school in the country in the drive to raise funds to combat muscular dystrophy.
To the students, faculty and alumni at Buck Lodge, the marathon is like an Olympic torch passed on from student to student since the first such event was held in 1974.
"When brothers and sisters get to 7th grade, boom! 'I want to be in the marathon.' It's the kind of legacy that keeps it going," explained Marty Berger, a marathon organizer and much-admired social studies teacher.
"The first year we laid down a challenge . . . (The students then) pick up the gauntlet and say 'We're going to break the record,'" he said.
Each year since 1974, students have broken the previous year's fund-raising record. So far, students have raised more than $100,000 for research, equipment and summer camp.
The student individually raising the most money in pledges is sent to Las Vegas to present Buck Lodge's check to comedian Jerry Lewis on his Labor Day Weekend Telethon for muscular dystrophy.
This year's Buck Lodge representative to the telethon will be Michelle Binker, a soft-spoken 8th-grader from Adelphi. Since December, Binker has raised $2,943 in pledges from local businesses.
"I'm happy I won," commented Binker, appearing uncomfortable with her new-found fame. "The whole school did as much as me . . . almost."
At the begining of the school year, students are shown a film on muscular dystrophy, a crippling disease that primarily affects young persons.
"When you turn the lights back on, you see kids with tears streaming down their faces," Marty Berger said.
The marathon is a bittersweet combination of competition and compassion.Between the grueling hours of playing and cleanup -- nonplaying students do the cleaning -- there is a cheerful comaraderie between the students that helps carry them towards their common goal.
"Everybody obeys the rules and has spirit," says Mel Hartman, a 9th-grader who stayed awake for 24 hours. "If it wasn't for muscular dystrophy, people wouldn't be able to stay up this long."
Between games, handicapped children played their own wheelchair basketball games. Much of the attention focused on 6-year-old Erek Gerende, the District of Columbia State Muscular Dystrophy Poster Child since 1977.
"I would love to see little Erek get out of his wheelchair and play basketball with us," said Kathie Stoehr, last year's representative to the Las Vegas telethon.
Apart from the fund-raising aspect of the marathon, the event also gives students an opportunity to spend a night away from home. With girls camped out in the typing room and boys similarly lined up in the wrestling room, the school takes on the atmosphere of a well-chaperoned slumber party. And although there are five hours between each team rotation, most students agree that sleep does not come easily.
Marty Berger estimates that 700 to 1,000 persons passed through the small gymnasium, draped in multicolored paper bearing the school's viking symbol. The press was also well represented at the event, which attracted radio, television and newspaper reporters.
As 8 p.m. Saturday and the end of the marathon drew near, participants were visibly tiring. Some players actually were staggering from the floor.
A small group of parents and teachers sat solemnly counting the money. When the final record-breaking count was announced, no one seemed surprised.
When asked for a statement about the achievement, no one seemed surprised. George Holderness, a social studies teacher and marathon organizer, simply told a reporter, "(We're) tired and speechless."