PORT ORCHARD, Wash. (AP) — This may not be what proponents of Common Core had in mind when they suggested students dig deeper into their studies.
It started as a side conversation among some kids in Danett Rozey's fourth-grade class at Mullenix Ridge Elementary School after the AFC Championship Game.
The topic? The allegedly underinflated footballs used by the New England Patriots in their 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in that game on Jan. 18.
At the center of a buzzing hive of young 12s, Ashton Smith, the lone Patriots fan in the class, was defending quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of his team against the allegations.
Rozey saw a learning opportunity and suggested the class do some research to sift truth from rumor.
"If I see there's a lot of student interest in something, I try to capitalize on it," she said. But a lesson plan about NFL regulations was a first, Rozey admits.
The students read news articles and weighed the reports for evidence that supported (or refuted) the allegations. The research made Deflategate believers of some and swayed former Patriots supporters to suspect the team.
"Before I looked at the text, I didn't think they cheated, because I didn't think NFL players would cheat," Kaylee Paquette said.
(Because clearly professional athletes are above reproach, right?)
"But then when I went back into the text, I noticed there was a lot of evidence that they did," Paquette said.
A number of students zeroed in on the $500,000 fine the NFL levied on Patriots coach Bill Belichick in 2007, when a Patriots staffer was caught videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals during a game.
"What really made me think they cheated was their quarterback Tom Brady said he likes using underinflated balls," Sarah Sieckowski said.
That kind of analytical reading is actually a key tenet of Common Core, Rozey said. The students also learned the art of civil debate.
"I think it's a lifelong skill that needs to be taught at a very young age," Rozey said. "To be able to respectfully disagree and support your opinion with evidence."
But the class didn't stop there. They decided to run their own scientific experiment.
Rozey had the PE teacher supply two footballs, one inflated to NFL specifications of 12.5 pounds per square inch, the other slightly underinflated. Students handled each ball to see if they could detect a difference. Rozey recorded the data, with students whispering their guesses to her to avoid influencing each other.
"Only one kid in this class couldn't tell," Madison Schultz said. "The rest of us kids could tell, and Tom Brady couldn't."
Empirical evidence in, the students sharpened their pencils and shot off impassioned letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Persuasive essay, check. Penmanship, check. Rozey's lesson plan was really getting some legs.
Most of the kids had harsh words for New England and plenty of advice for Goodell.
"Dear Mr. Goodell ... Whatever you do, please don't let the Patriots get away with the deflated ball incident. The Hawks don't want to play with cheaters ... 12th Man Brayden Gunyan."
"The coach should be fined and the team should also be fined. They should lose draft picks," Aimie Jackson advised.
"I hope we play a team that does not cheat just so they can win," wrote "12th girl" Makenna Shippy. "You have a hard decision to make, but I hope you choose right."
"I think that there should be a guard for the balls and keep an eye on the balls at all times in all future games," Anelyn Case wrote.
Then there was Smith.
"I am a mass Patriots' fan in a school infested with Seahawks fans, which makes me want to puke," he wrote. "In my opinion, I think they did not cheat, because the Colt's coach said that there was no issues with the balls before the game."
Smith thinks a re-cheat is unlikely because Belichick would have learned his lesson from the 2007 sanction, and plus the fact, the Patriots are so awesome they didn't need to cheat to win, he said.
"Thank you for your time, and I really hope that you look really hard into the investigation," Smith wrote. "P.S. Some game tickets would be cool."
That was earlier this week. On Thursday the NFL's officiating dean partly vindicated Smith, saying the inspection of footballs by a referee before the AFC Championship game was handled properly. And, yes, there will be extra eyes on the Patriots' balls for Sunday's big game.
Oh, and Ashton, sorry, man, but we've just got to say it, "Go Hawks!"
Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/