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January 9, 2013

Everything academic and then some

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — “It’s team ‘Jeopardy,’ with the ability to make Alex to shut up in the middle of the question by ringing a buzzer.”

That’s how Brooks Sanders describes the Catskill Area School Study Council’s sixth annual Upstate Academic Competition, which was held Tuesday at the State University College at Oneonta.

Sixteen teams from 11 school districts competed in a series of two-team question-and-answer sessions on a variety of academic and sometimes not-so-academic subjects, with the winner eligible to participate in a national competition, said Joanne Lentner, assistant coordinator for CASSC.

The questions cover literature, science, math, culture, sports, politics and other areas.

“Everything you would find in academic curriculum in a high school and then some,” said Scott Blish, who is a technical writer and self-employed tax accountant when he isn’t moderating the academic competition.

In addition to Blish and Sanders, the moderators included Tina Sanders, Brooks Sanders’ wife, and Kevin Hilgartner, who was a four-year participant on Ithaca’s quiz team and is now a freshman at Harvard University.

The Unadilla Valley team was 1-1 by early afternoon, but that one victory was a big one. It was the school’s first in two years of competing.

The team members — Nate Mackey, Zach Smith, Christian Emerson, Tyler Olson, Dustin Martin and Seth Beadle, all 12th-graders — said the difficulty of the questions depended on the category.

“The last game, we had to pick the category of outlaws,” Martin said. “And we had 10 questions, and we were not able to answer any of them.”

While they said they’re mostly generalists, some of them were better in certain areas.

“I’ve been picking up most of the chemistry questions,” Beadle said. “But we all know our fair share of chemistry.”

Unadilla Valley, which has 64 12th-graders, failed to reach the quarterfinals. Nevertheless, the team members saw the value in competing, agreeing that it helped bolster their confidence.

“These kids … come from small schools, so they tend to be the tops of their class,” said Andy Wolford, the team’s coach and adviser. “So it’s good to see kids at the tops of other schools as well, to where you match up. … It’s good for them.”

One of the smallest schools, Andes, which has about 150 students in the entire district, did make it as far as the quarterfinals Tuesday, Lentner said.

Oneonta coach Jenn Sitts agreed that the competition helped the students.

“I think it’s good for their self-confidence, for their ability to speak,” she said. “I have kids that are very quiet in class. … It’s good to see them start to come out.”

“And it’s good for them to meet students of a similar caliber from other school districts,” Lentner added.

“That’s really important,” said Cooperstown coach Tim Iverson.

In the end, the Cooperstown B team, whose members are Hope Dohner, Tom Franck, Erik Mebust, Jacob Miller and Abigail Brown, defeated Oneonta A for the championship, the second straight year Cooperstown has won.

Iverson, who is in his second year as coach, said: “Those two facts are entirely coincidental.”

He said the next step will be to decide which national competition to attend: Washington, New Orleans or Chicago. The school’s team went to Washington last year.

The Catskill Area School Study Council is a partnership between SUNY Oneonta and school districts covered by Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES and Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES. It is based at the Oneonta campus.