Jim Dey: For Champaign Central student, practice makes perfect on ACT

Jim Dey: For Champaign Central student, practice makes perfect on ACT

Near-perfection wasn't good enough for Caleb Patton.

"After I took the first ACT, I thought I was right there. So I said to myself, 'Why not try for it?'" the Champaign Central High School senior said, referring to his initial score of 35 on the American College Testing exam.

Patton recently learned that he had achieved his goal, becoming one of a relative handful of ACT exam takers nationwide to score a perfect 36. He took the test three times, scoring a 35, a 34 when he said "I was sick" and, finally, the elusive 36.

Good for him because, Patton said, "I was going to stop (retaking it) after the September test, no matter what it was."

"It was fortunate I got the 36," he said.


Well, in this case, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

It wasn't just the intellectual challenge that motivated Patton to pursue perfection.

He's applying to Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calling them his "dream schools." The competition to get accepted to either is brutal, and Patton said he concluded that extra point — and what it represents — could make the difference in achieving his goal.

"That's part of it," he said.

Perfection, however, hasn't gone to his head. He said he was elated and relieved to learn of his perfect score, but quickly came down to earth after realizing he had to get to band practice.

He said, "My mom was pretty happy" about it, to the point that she took him out for lunch.

But Patton said he's not making a big deal out of it because "there are a lot of smart kids at Central." Further, he said, there are others who are more skilled than he is in the pursuit of one of his passions — music.

He said he is humbled by the musical ability of his sister, Michaela, a Central junior who plays piano, cello and saxophone, and his brother, Micah, a Central freshman who plays saxophone and clarinet.

One of his classmates, a fellow saxophonist, won a talent competition and will appear on next month's Grammy music awards program.

"My goal is to be the best that I can be," he said,

Patton's major academic interest is in the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He said he'll pursue "something in the sciences" in college, perhaps physics and engineering. But he's not sure because "I like math."

Like many mathematicians, he finds the subject appealing because "I like problem solving and that there are never exceptions in math."

But Patton's nonacademic interests are many and varied. Like his dad, he's a big baseball fan and roots for the St. Louis Cardinals. He enjoys "working with my hands," citing a woodshop class he's taking at Central and working on cars at his father's auto-repair business.

He has a couple of sophisticated projects going right now.

"I'm trying to build a (radio-controlled) plane out of posterboard," he said. "I'm working on a drone, but that's not going great."

But Patton's favorite extracurricular activity is Central's music program. He has already decided that "I definitely would like to keep playing (the saxophone) in college and for the rest of my life."

He said he's "really big in the band program," participating in four different groups — marching band, a jazz ensemble, the wind symphony and a jazz combo.

Patton said he is a devotee of jazz and likes the music of Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, although "there are so many different jazz musicians I listen to."

He doesn't even mind getting up early for 7 a.m. band practice three mornings a week.

"Once you wake up, it's fun," Patton said.

In addition to pursuing academics and music practice and performance, he has added a new assignment that further cuts down on any possible free time. Since September, Patton has been working as a part-time scoretaker in The News-Gazette's sports department, getting a chance to see how a newspaper operates from the inside.

"It's my first job. It's definitely a great experience," he said.

In addition to the pay, there are perks he enjoys.

"You can read the stories before anyone else sees them," Patton said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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