Oakland Mills pulls out a last-second victory
THE OAKLAND Mills High School team was trailing for the entire match. The crowd was nervous. The band and cheerleaders sat quietly in the stands awaiting the final score. Then the team pulled it out at the last second and won the game. The crowd went crazy, the coach was so excited he could barely contain himself, the band played and the cheerleaders cheered.
But the game wasn’t a sports event. It was the taping of It’s Academic, a high school quiz show that will be aired on WJZ-TV, Channel 13, Feb. 1. The game was played and taped for television the last weekend in November. “We were down 10 or 15 points the entire match,” said Kevin Shea, team coach and faculty advisor. “We stole a couple of last questions. The whole game was very close.”
To prepare for the big game, the students on the team practice after school once a week for about an hour.
“We just sit there for an hour and do nothing but answer weird questions,” Shea said. “There is no credit and no incentive to do it except that they really like it. The categories can be anything from Russian rulers, American presidents, coinage, anything.”
The show’s format is similar to the game show Jeopardy, but the three team members can confer before they answer a question. Oakland Mills was up against South Carroll and Patuxent high schools.
Team captain Eric Marshall, 18, a senior, was modest about the victory and the team.
“Being on the team is really enjoyable,” said Marshall. “It allows me to use knowledge that I picked up in various places that I can’t use anywhere else.” He said this year’s win was due to more practice and more teamwork.
“We really knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We were a bit more decisive.”
Team member Stephen Levay, 17, a senior, said each of the three had expertise in different areas. “Eric really knows math and science, Jen [Bryant] knows odd things, and I’m good with history and literature.”
Anyone who is interested can be a member of the Oakland Mills High School It’s Academic team, Shea said. But only three get to be on TV.
“You can tell from the practices who is the best and the quickest,” Shea said. “They may know the answers, but they have to be able to get in on the buzzer and answer quickly.”
Being on television is not the only way the team competes. The six-member team – Alexis and Lauranne Lanz, Elonna Ekweani, Jennifer Bryant, Stephen Levay and Eric Marshall – competes in tournaments throughout the year. The tournaments are often run on computer. The team recently competed in the KnowledgeMaster Open, in which it placed 261st out of 858 schools from around the world. Its ranking was seventh out of the 21 high schools competing from Maryland, and, of the top 10 winners, Oakland Mills was the smallest school with the fewest students on the team, Shea said.
Shea enjoys working with the team.
“These kids are so unsung,” Shea said. “They are so quiet in school. They don’t get the support the way the basketball team winning the championship does.”
But the way Shea describes his team and the game you would think he was talking about a big basketball game.
“We met a team of kids that were all going to MIT,” Shea said. “We crushed them. We have really well-rounded kids. Howard County schools are always strong. Howard High School is a powerhouse.”
He also enjoys knowing the team members.
“I teach honors English and journalism,” Shea said. “If it weren’t for coaching this team, I wouldn’t have met a lot of these kids. They are great kids.”
Of course, team members benefit from the experience.
“It gives you a good grasp of what you know and what you don’t know,” Marshall said. “It builds self-confidence. It helps with study techniques. And, it looks good on a resume.”
The victory is not the end of the team’s television career. The game it won last month is the first round. It will compete in the playoffs in April.
As for the future beyond television game shows, Levay is planning to go to college and study journalism, and Marshall knows he will go to college but has not chosen a major. With an SAT score of 1540, however, he has many choices.
The glory of the victory does not last forever.
“It was exciting,” Marshall said. “Then it all fades into the jumble of high school.”
A 36-year career
Stevens Forest Elementary School is bidding a fond farewell to first-grade teacher Doris Morgan. She is retiring after a 36-year career.
“Mrs. Morgan will be embarking upon a well-deserved retirement after 36 years of teaching,” Principal John Birus said in the school newsletter. “Best wishes to Mrs. Morgan.”
Congratulations to two Oakland Mills High School band members.
Freshman Brittany Harris made the junior All State Band with her talent for the clarinet, and junior Robert Burns made the senior All State Band, playing percussion. They will perform at the Maryland Music Educators Association Conference in Baltimore in February.
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