The Fitch varsity Academic Challenge team still has a challenge or two left for their season. After finishing third in the first division, they were invited to take part in the state competition on April 6.
In the past three years, Fitch had an academic team that competed in a local weekly television competition. That team shifted gears this year by entering the official National Academic Quiz Tournaments. They couldn't simply enter though, they had to wait for a spot to open.
"We had to wait for another school to drop out," said team coach and Fitch Spanish teacher Valerie Baiss. "The [league] only has 16 teams in Mahoning County."
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Members of the Fitch varsity and JV Academic Challenge team face off in a practice session as they prepare for a trip to state and to nationals if they can raise the funds. On the right is the JV team composed of junior Latrice Nelson, junior Hannah Keeling, freshman Dillon Freeman, junior Zack While, and junior Carmen Burk. On the left are varsity team members junior Paul Farbman, junior Sierra DuBois, junior Nicholas McGuigan, and senior Nick Ruscitti. At the far center is Fitch Spanish teacher Valerie Baiss, who serves as the team’s coach.
A school did drop out and the Fitch team was ready to jump in. They began intensive practice sessions at the start of the school year. Biass said she got practice questions from the NAQT and the kids seemed overwhelmed at first.
"When they started, they were like deer staring at headlights," Biass said.
To compete in academic challenges takes a team of four. The team will listen to questions and the first to buzz in has to answer it. If they get it right, they earn five points. Get it wrong and lose five points.
The questions cover a very wide range of subject matter, which is where a team rises to the top through team members' varied knowledge. As an example, Zack While is the team's expert when it comes to sports. Sierra Dubois is strong when it comes to entertainment. Each team member has several areas of expertise.
In January, the varsity and JV teams hit the tournament circuit and quickly proved themselves. The JV team went undefeated in the season and the varsity team got bumped up after placing first in the second division.
"The varsity team won their way into the first division," Biass said. "We are now competing with the top dogs."
The Fitch team held their own in the first division and finished third in the county. With the third place win, the varsity team was invited to compete in the NAQT state competition in Columbus on April 6. That competition costs $50 to enter and through donations, they are ready to go.
A second invitation came for the NAQT nationals held in Atlanta, on May 24 to 26. While the Fitch team has been invited, it will cost a lot more than $50 for that trip. They will also have to cover the lodging as well as the fee and team members are already looking at ways to seek donations to cover the trip. Anyone wishing to help them out can contact Biass at 330-797-3900, ext 1 (for Fitch) and leave a message.
Biass said this year, the event is starting to make a move towards an international tournament. Although this year's event is still being called the nationals, it may feature a couple of foreign teams. In total, 240 teams are invited because they rank among the best.
While they are waiting for the state and nationals, the team is continuing their twice-weekly practice runs. Biass has a button system with timer to make the sessions as close to real competition as possible. The JV works along with the varsity during the sessions.
As for future teams, the present team is constantly recruiting. One of the strong recruiters has been Hannah Keeling, but then she has a method.
"I recruited my own circle of friends," she said.
Biass also mentioned that when the team let it out that they were winning, a few more prospects dropped by.
The team also is ranked on an individual level. The Fitch team has four individuals split between varsity and JV who are in the top 50 out of 271 in the county. From the varsity team Nick Ruscitti and Paul Farbman were each named to the All-County second team in Academic Challenge. Other varsity team members include DuBois, and Nicholas McGuigan.
JV team members for this school year include Latrice Nelson, Hannah Keeling, Dillon Freeman, While, Carmen Burk, Jackie Knutti, Jasmine Washington, Jeff Young, Matt Taylor, Rachel Malizia, and Will Dzenowski.