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Centennial High School wins first virtual ‘It’s Academic’ competition for Baltimore region

The Centennial High School team competes during a virtual "It's Academic" contest via Zoom, which will be aired on WJZ TV on Saturday. Clockwise: Host David Zahren, Adam Knox, Anthony Duan and Tobias Moser.
The Centennial High School team competes during a virtual "It's Academic" contest via Zoom, which will be aired on WJZ TV on Saturday. Clockwise: Host David Zahren, Adam Knox, Anthony Duan and Tobias Moser. (Photo courtesy WJZ TV)

For the sixth time in the past eight years, Centennial High School won the “It’s Academic” Baltimore Metro championship last month.

Unlike its previous titles, however, Centennial’s trophy this year was earned via the Zoom videoconferencing platform rather than in a TV studio.

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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of Centennial’s academic competitions were canceled, but “It’s Academic,” which airs on WJZ Channel 13 in Baltimore, pivoted to a virtual contest for the first time. The championship match will air at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“The tough thing about this year was that we didn’t get closure,” said Centennial team captain Adam Knox. “We thought we’d have all these different tournaments this spring, but they didn’t happen. But having this made it better. We were ecstatic to be able to have it online.”

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“It’s Academic” began in 1961 and is the longest-running quiz show in TV history. With competitions in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Central Virginia, high school students across the country compete for the top spot.

To keep the tradition alive, “It’s Academic” switched to a virtual format using Zoom. It didn’t have the same feel, but Centennial coach Eric Seifter said the new format worked well.

“Instead of having buzzer competition” — to be first to answer the question — “they took each team by itself and recorded each of its rounds in succession,” said Seifter, who coaches alongside his wife, Sara, and John Heslin. “There was no buzzing, and you had no idea how the other teams were doing. It looks pretty good. I don’t think it’s as exciting as the buzzer racing, but it really seems like it worked really well.”

Knox and teammates Tobias Moser, who will be attending Stanford University in the fall, and junior Anthony Duan were the three-member squad that brought home the championship — and $5,750 in scholarship money — for the Eagles.

“We’re very excited to see these kids succeed,” Seifter said. “We’ve been with these kids since they were in middle school. These kids are all very impressive.”

The Baltimore Metro title was the Eagles’ 10th since 2003. The team won four straight between 2015 and 2018 before losing by one point to Walkersville High School last year. Winning the title this year, Knox said, avenged the heartbreaking loss last season.

“It was definitely a bit of a redemption because we lost in the finals last year,” said Knox, who will be attending the College of William & Mary in the fall. “To be able to win this year was definitely a bit cathartic. It was a nice way to end my senior year.”

While Knox, Moser and Duan won the title, they’re the product of a much larger group of teammates behind them. Centennial’s “It’s Academic” team includes more than 70 students, and Peter Wilschke, Mahta Gooya and Carter Matties were the team’s alternates for the competition.

“I’m very happy that I’m part of this program,” Knox said. “It’s produced so many wonderful players and exceptional people. I’m humbled to be a part of that group.”

While Centennial was the last team standing in the 81-team competition, they weren’t the only Howard County school to perform well. Mt. Hebron High School, led by David Wang, Co-Tu Doan, and Jeremy Roberts-Kleban, finished second behind the Eagles, while Long Reach High School lost by only one question to Centennial in the semifinals. Mt. Hebron coach Bryna Weiss won the Sophie Altman Coach of the Year Award.

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