School News

Berkeley Springs Academic Showdown Team heads to state finals

by Kate Evans

Berkeley Springs High School Academic Showdown teams have been studying, researching and practicing answering questions on on a variety of topics all year in preparation for regional and state academic knowledge competitions.

Their hard work has paid off with the Berkeley Springs High School Team 1 (Team Blue) winning first place as regional champions in the January 21 Shepherd University regional of the 2023 West Virginia Academic Showdown against Spring Mills High School Team 1.

The Berkeley Springs High School Team Blue competes at the state finals this Friday, March 31 in Charleston.

Berkeley Springs High School English teacher Rachel Hopkins, Academic Showdown teams advisor, said the school has two separate teams competing this year but only one team was going to the state competition.

Pictured are Berkeley Springs High School Academic Showdown team members (left to right) Team Gold captain Trinity Anderson, alternate Daniel Sheppard, and Team Gold members Elliot Jurick and Hunter Hook, teacher Rachel Hopkins- advisor, and Team Blue (Team 1) members Steven Maconaughey, team captain Matthew Leasure, Drew Hill and Blake Burhoe. Not seen is Team Gold member Brett Shoemaker.

Team Gold, the second team, came in fifth place at the January 21 regionals at Shepherd University.

Berkeley Springs High School Team Blue (Team 1) members are team captain Matthew Leasure, Steven Maconaughey, Drew Hill and Blake Burhoe.  All are seniors.

Berkeley Springs High School Team Gold members are team captain Trinity Anderson and Brett Shoemaker, both seniors, and sophomores Elliot Jurick and Hunter Hook. Tenth grader Daniel Sheppard serves as an alternate. Team Gold members and their alternate have continued to practice with Team Blue members to help them prepare for Friday’s state finals.

The competition

The West Virginia Academic Showdown tests students’ knowledge in literature, math, history, science, geography, fine arts, religion/mythology,   social science,  philosophy, current events, pop culture, sports and general knowledge.

Regional competition matches were held at five universities across the state. Schools may enter up to two teams.  The top two teams from each regional competition advanced to the state finals.

The Academic Showdown was first launched in 2022.  It is sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History.

Daily practice, strategies

Hopkins said that the Academic Showdown teams practice daily.  There are no penalties for wrong answers.  She always tells the kids to make a logical guess.  They have won points using that strategy, Hopkins noted.

Students have less than 10 seconds to ring in an answer at the competitions, which is challenging, she said.  The other team may be waiting to guess the answer based on your reply.

In the first half of the tournament, kids have to communicate with each other as a team, while in the second half of the competition they’re not allowed to work as a team.

The questions are really random, Hopkins said.  They might ask a question about TikTok and next a question about Shakespeare.  It puts kids on their toes. One question about the play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” really threw everyone, but kids remembered it when it came up in another competition.

Hopkins said that students are learning a lot of things that aren’t normally covered in class through the competitions.  Strategies of working together as a team, techniques to ring in faster and communication all contribute to their success.

Hopkins agreed to be their coach as she was one of the original high school Academic Challenge team members under social studies teacher Paul Quirk in the late 1990s to early 2000s.  She really enjoyed the competitions herself then.

Berkeley Springs High School Academic Showdown teams also competed in the National Academic Challenge tournament in Ripley.  One team took third place in Division 2 and the other team won third place in Division 3, Hopkins said.

Areas of specialty

Academic Showdown team members gathered in Hopkins’ classroom for their daily practice on March 23 and spoke with The Morgan Messenger about their experiences.  Trinity Anderson said that they had a large rivalry with the Spring Mills High School team.  Team members also had different areas of expertise.

Steven Maconaughey is their history guy, Drew Hill and Trinity Anderson’s areas are music and pop culture, Blake Burhoe’s specialty is music theory, Matthew Leasure’s is a math expert and Hunter Hook and Matthew Leasure’s areas are literary knowledge.

There was a Batman category and Blake Burhoe dominated it.  Another category dealt with presidential years. Hunter Hook said for one question he counted out all the Pope Benedicts and got the right one.

Hunter advised, “If you don’t know the right answer, guess.”

The teams have spent hundreds of hours practicing and countless hours researching.  Hunter Hook said he spent three hours learning female authors after one competition. He wondered how next year was going to go without their members that were seniors.

Matthew Leasure said what he enjoyed most about the Academic Showdown competitions was all of the friendships that he’s made.

The March 31 competition in Charleston is a double-elimination format and can be viewed through the West Virginia Department of Education website.