Room 137 of Walkersville High School was home to a mock trivia game Wednesday afternoon.
Instead of students answering questions from English teacher John Van Bloem about literature and related topics, they sat in front of buzzers, answering trivia questions spanning topics from geography, the animal kingdom, technology and several others.
The practice was preparation for the “It’s Academic” quiz show, the world’s longest-running TV quiz show, according to Guinness World Records. Multiple students from the school’s academic trivia club were a part of that practice Wednesday.
Walkersville won the regional competition on TV in Baltimore at WJZ studios earlier this month, beating 80 other teams in a season that started in November. In the final, Walkersville beat Centennial High School and Calvert Hall, Van Bloem said. Centennial had been the champion four years in a row.
A team of three students and two alternates will compete in the show’s Intercity match, or “Super Bowl,” in Washington, D.C., against two other teams on Saturday at around 12:30 p.m. The show will air June 29 at 7 p.m. on NBC4, WRC-TV.
Walkersville will face Kettle Run High School from Nokesville, Virginia, and the winner of a match among Rockville High School, Sandy Springs Friends and Montgomery Blair. Those last three schools will play immediately before Walkersville on Saturday.
The win in Baltimore was a rebound from losing the county championships in February at Frederick High School, when Brunswick beat all the county’s other high schools, Van Bloem said.
One of the main differences between the county competition and the “It’s Academic” show is that at the county level, there are teams of four, and you can rotate different students in between rounds. On the TV show, it’s three students playing the entire game, Van Bloem said.
At Wednesday’s practice, multiple students answered questions before he, or assistant coaches and teachers Bryan Stillman and Darrin Drum, had finished asking the question. There’s a reason for that.
“The game is to interrupt. You interrupt the question,” Van Bloem said. “But you’ve got to interrupt the question at the right time. And of course, you have to know [what he or she is asking].”
For the past several years, Walkersville has been invited to be on the “It’s Academic” show, he said. The county school system has been doing its own competition for about 30 years.
Milan Patel, a junior who will be one of the main contestants Saturday, said he’s successful at trivia because instead of reading fantasy books in his childhood, he reached for nonfiction and realistic fiction instead.
Like Van Bloem, he said there’s a strategy to “interrupting” questions as they’re asked.
“We call that cadence ... most of the time, the person who’s writing the question writes it in pretty much the same way,” Patel said. “So you know where that clue is coming that you can buzz in on really quickly, before the question’s over.”
With teammates trying to buzz in as quickly as possible, trusting everyone on your team is key, said junior Brendan Lawler, one of the two alternates.
“A lot of the time, it’s like, you have this little thing of self-doubt in your head, where you’re debating on whether to press the buzzer,” said Lawler, who is graduating a year early. “Am I 100 percent certain? Am I 75 percent certain? ... It’s easy to buzz in and we’ll have a short discussion about it, and usually we’ll come up with the answer.”
Van Bloem is in his fifth year of coaching. He said he enjoys when great teams are playing, trading correct answers to difficult questions.
He added that many of the kids who register for the team each year — this year, roughly 40 — are model students. That extends to teams outside of Walkersville.
“You’re going to meet the smartest kids in the school, and they know a ton of stuff, and they’re just a lot of fun to hang out with at the end of the day,” Van Bloem said. “You don’t always get to hang out with kids at this intellectual height. A lot of these kids are way smarter than I am. It’s just I know a little more stuff, because I’ve been older longer.”
It’s interesting to see students, especially underclassmen, join the trivia club, Van Bloem said. It often piques their interest in learning, he added.
“A lot of kids say it starts to change the way they look at the information they’re getting in class, because they try to start remembering some of these details,” he said.
“It kind of complements what you’re trying to do in school,” Van Bloem added. “We’re trying to churn out people who know stuff. The idea that it’s all about skill-based learning is, well, yeah — but it’s really helpful to know things.”