The Suburbanite
  • Area academics rise to the challenge

  • Being a member of an Academic Challenge team may not be as direct a route to post-education success as other high school activities.  But some, it would seem, are simply born to it.

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  • Being a member of an Academic Challenge team may not be as direct a route to post-education success as other high school activities. But some, it would seem, are simply born to it.
    “An Academic Challenge player can, for sure, be ‘made’ — by paying attention during honors classes,” said senior Brandon Mader, a Jackson High School Academic Challenge team member. “Especially for the TV show, where a lot of the questions are pulled from AP English, Biology, History and Chemistry. But then there are the other questions — like which edition of Poe’s novels were published in which city — that there is no rational reason anybody should know.”
    Except, perhaps, those like Mader and his teammates, including fellow seniors Zach Kassir and Jacob Donnelly. Coached by Library Media Specialist Christina Conti and AP English teacher Matthew Gillette, the team ended its Federal League season 11-1 in a tie for first with North Canton Hoover. Hoover was ultimately given first place, based on overall points during the November through February regular season. The Jackson team then placeed third in regional competition.
    On Jan. 27, the team appeared on the long-running WEWS Academic Challenge TV show, where it faced Indian Valley and Wickliffe. The show will air March 23.
    Other area teams who have appeared or will be appearing on the show this year include Coventry, which appeared Jan. 12; Manchester on March 16; and Green on May 11.
    Mader said his introduction to Academic Challenge came almost by accident.
    “I became involved in my freshman year,” he said. “It wasn’t a very publicized activity. Ms. Conti told me it is a team of smart people who know random stuff.”
    Both Kassir and Donnelly joined the team after watching Mader participate.
    Donnelly said the process of making the team is almost as simple as the team advisers’ recruiting efforts.
    “You try out, so to speak, by having a match, and those who can answer quickest are selected,” Donnelly said, adding that matches during the regular season are much lower key- and the questions more challenging - than those on the TV show.
    “The most surprising part about it to me is what people know, that you would think no one would know,” Kassir said of Academic Challenge. “The flip side of it is when you know the answer, but can’t get it out - it’s on the tip of your tongue.”
    The team members each said the fun and camaraderie of the competition far outweighs its long-term, career-building usefulness. But participation in Academic Challenge can act as a springboard to other, more practical areas of knowledge, Donnelly said.
    “I would say that most of the knowledge is so specific and esoteric that there is no real use for it,” he said. “But there is some possibility that a question - like something about government - might send you in that direction, to find out more about the subject.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Mader added with a laugh, “In general, it’s all of the information you have collected - and I, personally have collected a lot of pretty useless information.”
    Even for the much younger Coventry team of senior team captain Mason Belles, junior Mitchell Simmons, and sophomores Alex Harper, Josh Gunter, Cheyenne Gerard, and Dorothy Stalnaker, the season and TV show appearance were rewarding.
    “We only had one veteran on the team this year, so we didn’t win a lot,” said school psychologist Sara Stephan, who coached this year’s Coventry team with long-time coach Justin Pascoe. “But I think it was a very positive experience for the kids. We competed in four competitions throughout the year and an all-day event Feb. 4 at Kent State with eight teams.”
    Beyond the televised competition, Stephan said visiting a television studio itself was eye-opening.
    “It was interesting and surprising how quickly it went,” she said. “We were done in pretty much one take and were only in the studio for about a half hour.”
    Stephan said her immersion into Academic Challenge was equally surprising.
    “I’m the school psychologist, so I wanted to get more involved in things in the school,” she said. “And I’ve always loved trivia, so I thought this is a perfect fit.”
    Inadvertently proving the true worth of Academic Challenge, Stephan added: “This is my first year, but in every practice, I always learn something.”

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