Eleven-year-old Matthew Sobey likes baseball. His friends Tyler Hollingsworth and Stephen Schorn, both 11, like math. How they chose to link their interests is the stuff prize-winning Web sites are made of.
"Baseball . . . and Math!" brought a $750 second-place prize to each fifth-grader and their school, Pattie Elementary in Montclair, courtesy of the two-year-old ThinkQuest Junior contest.
ThinkQuest Junior, open to teams of students in grades four to six, drew more than 600 teams for the Web site competition. The contest is sponsored by Advanced Network & Services Inc., a company that promotes education tools through the Internet.
"First we didn't know so many people would enter, then we heard 44 states. And we thought, `Dude, we won?' " Tyler said.
Matthew, who has since moved to Rural Retreat, Va., was more confident. "We knew it wasn't going to win unless we designed it very well. Which we did," he said.
The students researched stories for the "Baseball Bloopers" portion of the site and created word problems based on baseball terms. Then they built the site, without using any of the software tools that automatically create Web pages.
"It was really cool to see all the different things you can do," Stephen said.
Many students willingly spent Saturdays and part of their spring break tinkering with the Web pages, which include graphics, music, student-produced artwork and computer games.
"This isn't like school," Tyler said, explaining why he gave up his free time.
"It's better than school," added Stephen.
Watson and Chris Miller, a gifted education teacher, said the project taught teamwork as well as computer knowledge. When the winning team first came together, team members weren't sure how to meld their interests.
"One of the things we wanted to do was teach them how to work as a team -- learning how to brainstorm, learning how to compromise," Watson said.
All the ThinkQuest Junior sites can be accessed by teachers who want to use them as tools in the classroom, said contest spokeswoman Andrea V. Papa.
Aside from the computer knowledge, the contest requires students to think just like adults must do in the workplace: creating a product, conducting research and then testing it in the real world.
"The ThinkQuest concept parallels a product development cycle," Papa said.
Miller said her students already have come to her with a list of places they want to visit -- the Baltimore Aquarium, a veterinarian, the hospital -- as research for next year's contest.
Some also plan to keep working on what they made this year. For instance, fifth-graders Amy Trykowski, 11, Jonathon Vann, 11, and Rachel Kaz, 10, combined their interests in fossils, plants and dinosaurs into a graphics-rich Web site titled "The Earth, Yesterday, Today and Forever."
Although their site did not win a prize, they said they were proud of their work.
"Even though I'm moving to Texas, it would be neat to keep working on this site to improve it," Jonathon said.
The Web sites of the Pattie Elementary students can be accessed at the school's site, www.illuminet.net/pattie. The winning ThinkQuest Junior entries can be found at www.thinkquest.org
CAPTION: Stephen Schorn and Tyler Hollingsworth's Web site links baseball and math for a winning combination in the ThinkQuest Junior contest. The site captured a second-place prize for the fifth-graders and their school, Pattie Elementary.