MLB.com Challenge 6th Inning: Facing the Music

Hinds Hall, Syracuse University campus, 9:02 am ET November 11 – The first casualties of any all-night work session, whether it’s at school or at the office, are the chairs. If they’re portable, they typically get leveraged for whatever seemed to be useful at the time. Two chairs put together make a bed, assuming you have a sturdy back. Four chairs put together make… something else, I’m still not sure what. In any event, as professors returned to their classrooms this morning to conduct classes in a mere half-hour, those chairs that weren’t bolted into their desks looked like the victims of a destroyed 3D jigsaw puzzle. And many of the students looked the same.

What’s called “snow” during this time of year in Syracuse looks more like an explosion of a slushie machine. Greyish clumps of almost gelatinous water the size of your thumb, and colder than ice itself, are hurled toward you by an unforgiving Lake Superior. Whereas students on almost any other campus in the nation would consider such weather a personal attack, the Orangemen and Orangewomen walk through it like a spring shower.

In about two hours, the students in the MLB.com University Challenge will be putting on suits (okay, maybe not all of them) and giving presentations as though their careers depended on it. “Fab 5” has recovered some of its missing fabs, and Rachel – who’s working toward a career in broadcast journalism – is screening her team’s presentation so far. One moment she sounds like an anchor receiving her cue for air; the next moment she is out like a light.

Bob, an information management and technology major, regains Rachel’s attention. He’s standing in front of a projection of Page 1 of the Fab 5 preso on the wall, but he’s concerned that the simple act of saying hello and reciting what the preso will be about, will consume too much of the team’s precious four minutes. “What does a splash page do for us?” he asks.

“What does a splash page do for us?” repeats Rachel, at first like a foreign exchange student studying English for the first time. Then she owns the question and repeats it a second time, this time as though she’d thought of it herself. Bob repeats it back, and it starts to become a rap song. Finally Rachel delivers an answer, “Nothing, let’s take it out.” The act that I had so long wished hundreds of veteran public speakers would do, perhaps giving me back 500 minutes of my life, has just been done by two college kids up for 29 hours on one hour’s sleep.

The “Lean Like a Rotolo” group (named for one of Syracuse iSchool’s most popular professors, who really does teach a course in Star Trek) is working out a single-page presentation using a Web app called Prezi. You’ve read about it here in RWW; it lets you and your online collaborators build a massive, single whiteboard diagram. Instead of moving slide-by-slide, you move Prezi’s camera to various points on the diagram.

Group Rotolo has a playground-like motif for its Prezi preso, which proposes a section of the MLB.com Web site to be devoted to kids playing online games and entering into activities centered around baseball. It’s already slick, especially the way it bounds from point to point like a hot-air balloon, but the others on the team have seen it so many times it’s becoming like a lullaby.

11:05 am – Prof. Jeffrey Rubin has returned after a few hours’ sleep, and everyone else is envious. But the MLB.com judging team has brought doughnuts and bagels, so no one is rioting. Rubin’s plan this morning is for a colleague to deliver a brief lecture on how to deliver brief lectures, so students get a little bit more of a handle on how to speak in public.

But first he has a surprise: He’s found an online video feed from the local News Channel 9, and as you can see, the camera quickly passes up a chance to interview the guys of “Hashtag Swag” (that’s their backs you see) to center on the ladies of the “Rockford Peaches.”

(Notice also that newsroom staffers this early in the morning can’t spell “challenge.”)

The camera caught the Peaches seated exactly where they had been for the entire night; no, they weren’t about to move an inch, even for “Good Morning Syracuse.”

Seeing themselves hard at work brought back some of the peach color to the ladies’ faces. The “War Between the Fan Clubs” page was already looking surprisingly professional, and although Lauren was a little apprehensive at hearing her own voice the way all Syracuse heard it, after a few seconds, she gave an audible sigh of relief. She’d actually come off pretty well. And yes, that’s Neil from the “Winston” group seated with the ladies. Notice he’s not dozing off now.

TOMORROW: After 21 solid hours, the presentations and the victor.

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