Four young men who recently graduated from Centennial High School left on a high note when their team won a national trophy in the It's Academic quiz bowl competition. The victory was especially gratifying because the team beat Walter Johnson High School from the Washington metropolitan area, which had bested Centennial in an earlier forum.
"We got sweet revenge," said Micheal Fasulo, who will be going to University of Maryland, Baltimore County on a full scholarship in the fall. "I'm bragging here, but we need to be heard in public."
Fasulo, along with team captain Jeff Amoros and players Seth Manoff and Marin Lolic, have been competing in quiz bowl competitions together for more than two years, answering questions about history, literature, music, art, math and science within seconds of hearing them.
Fasulo and Amoros both noted that the team is unusually strong, with each member bringing a wealth of knowledge to the games.
In the past few years, the Centennial team has grown more popular, expanding from eight or nine players to more than 20, said Amoros. "I guess mainly because people who joined the club started pulling people in," he said.
Two years ago, the team rehearsed once a week for an hour, Amoros said.
"Last year, we upped it to twice a week for an hour. This year, it was twice a week for two hours. Before a TV match, we stayed every day for three hours. It ended up becoming a very big thing."
Amoros' dad, Scott, praised the coach, John Cheek. "He's just terrific," he said. "It's like one of those TV shows, the sappy movie where everybody just loves the coach."
Anyone can join It's Academic, Amoros said, but tryouts are held for the "A" team.
The culmination of the boys' involvement came June 12 in Orlando, Fla., when the team took top honors in the "consolation" group of academic quiz teams in an event, which is not linked to the TV show. It was sponsored by PACE -- the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence.
The first tier is comprised of the top 12 teams in the nation, and the consolation group is the next 20 -- not exactly slouches.
The national high school quiz competitions started in 1961 as a Washington-based televised game show called It's Academic, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's longest-running television program. In Washington, the program's quizmaster is Mac McGarry, the original host.
High schools sent their three best players to go to the TV competition. Over the years, explained Centennial parent Eric Seifter, schools began setting up teams and clubs so that students could practice. Then schools began holding additional competitions.
This year, the Centennial team came in second to Walter Johnson in the televised Super Bowl championship, competing against teams in Washington, Virginia and Maryland. The event was held May 21 and will be televised at 7 p.m. Saturday on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).
To get to the championship level, the Centennial players first had to win a few contests just to get to two rounds of playoffs, and then win a semifinal and a Baltimore regional competition. The regional match was taped for television May 14 and will be shown at 10 a.m. Saturday on WJZ-TV.
The format for the televised show never varies. There are five rounds worth varying points. Teams gain points for correct answers and lose them for wrong ones. The third round is visual, meaning the questions are related to visual images, and the fourth round gives 25 bonus points if all questions are answered correctly.
To prepare for the show, members of the Centennial team watched previous competitions, which was especially helpful because some of the questions come up again in later years, Amoros said. For example, in the visual round, a photo of Samuel Gompers was shown, and the team was able to identify the 19th-century labor leader right away because that picture had been shown in a competition from the late 1990s, Amoros said.
"All four of us are passionate about what we do," Fasulo said. "We're really well-rounded when it comes to knowledge."