WJ DOMINATES: It’s Academic

“It’s basically reading, reading, reading, followed by memorizing, memorizing, memorizing,” said It’s Academic team captain, senior Daichi Ueda. “You read an encyclopedia article, you read a work of literature, you read a science textbook . . . then, you remember [it].”

Since their freshman year, Ueda and fellow senior Andi Shahu have been reading and studying for academic competitions. While televised contests have brought the team the most publicity, this year, they have gained more acclaim on the national pyramidal quiz bowl circuit, where they ranked fifth in a preseason poll taken by HighSchoolQuizbowl.org and third in a midseason poll.

“TV shows are generally a test of speed,” said Ueda. “It really rewards your reaction speed, your anticipation skills and your instinct to tell ‘where the question is going.’ The speed of your fast-twitch muscle often means more than your knowledge. [In pyramidal competition,] the questions are organized from the most difficult clue to the most obvious clue so that the teams with the more knowledge would get the points. It really rewards studying and working, and it’s much less prone to upsets. The team with the more knowledge usually wins.”

When WJ lost to Churchill High School in the first round of finals competition on the It’s Academic TV show, they knew that their stint of competition together was not over.

“We are going to Chicago; the NAQT [National Academic Quiz Tournament] national tournament is held there in late May,” said team coach and science teacher Mark Whipple, whose 16-year run with the team has made him the most seasoned quiz team coach in MCPS. “There is another national level tournament at the end of the year that is much closer, at George Mason University, and we plan to attend that one also.  Both of these are pyramidal style events.”

Ueda and Shahu hope to see the team’s daily lunchtime practices and independent study pay off at these tournaments.

“I promised myself to bring a national title to WJ,” said Ueda. “That’s what I promised to the [class of 2006] who inspired me to be better at quiz bowl and I want to prove that a non-magnet, non-charter, non-private school can be number one academically.”

According to Whipple, Ueda’s ambition is not unfounded.

“This is the first time that WJ has a player who is legitimately one of the best quiz bowl players anywhere,” said Whipple. “If there was an academic competition national all-star team, we might have its captain right here.