Are you smarter than a high schooler? Academic Challenge Team gives students a fun way to learn

See if you can answer this question: Which country recently planted 79 million trees to help the nation’s environmental problems?

How about this one: What’s the name of the outdoor venue in Morrison, Colo. that’s considered to be one of the world’s best naturally acoustic amphitheaters?

Or: In which architectural style was the Lincoln Memorial designed: Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian?


Consider that these are just a few examples of the questions the Secaucus High School Academic Challenge Team ponders each week as it broadens its knowledge base and prepares for tournaments against other schools.

Last month, the 17-member team was narrowly defeated by North Bergen’s High Tech High School by a score of 310 to 250 at the Hudson County Academic Bowl. But given the difficulty of the questions – “if ABC is an isosceles triangle where AB equals AC with angle BAC…” – those 250 points indicate that the team did Secaucus proud.

The Hudson County Academic Bowl, one of four tournaments the Secaucus team enters each school year, is a Jeopardy!-style question-and-answer competition that tests the players’ familiarity with such topics as history, geography, art, music, literature, pop culture, and math and science.

“This is really just a way for the students to learn and have fun at the same time,” said team advisor and Secaucus High School teacher Sharon Williams.

Williams has divided her students into two sub-groups: the A Team, made up of juniors and seniors who have been with the team since they were underclassmen, and the B Team, made up of freshmen and sophomores. At tournaments, such as the Hudson County Academic Bowl, Williams rotates A and B Team members so that everybody gets an opportunity to participate.

Increases curiosity

“The tournaments raise the students’ level of curiosity,” Williams said. “They get really frustrated when they miss a question, especially if it’s one they feel they should have gotten. They’ll go back later and study the questions and answers they missed, so they’ll remember that information in the future.”

While the loss to High Tech was a heartbreaker, the categories and questions, provided by the Ohio-based company Questions Unlimited, were so narrow and specific that even all-time Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings may have been unsure of the answers.

“We do very well when the categories are broader…science or math, or Caribbean history, topics like that,” Williams said. “But at the [Hudson County Academic] tournament the categories were topics like ‘ballet,’ and ‘Finland,’ and ‘the Beatles.’ So, if no one from your team knew anything about ballet, you were guaranteed to miss everything in that category.”

(For the record, the opposing team from High Tech High School was reportedly just as baffled by these topics as the students from Secaucus.)

But since the competition was all in good fun, and no one has millions of dollars in prize money on the line, the students seem to chalk up the loss as a leaning experience.

Kids like it

“With the challenge team, your horizon is broadened,” said A Team member Ronak Dave, a Secaucus High junior who has been with the team since his sophomore year. “I can definitely say that I’ve learned about things I wouldn’t have even thought about if I wasn’t on the team. And I’ve really started to get into classical music because of my involvement on the team.”

Dave, an Artic Monkeys fan who counts pop culture and music among his strengths in competition, said Tchaikovsky and Mahler are now his favorite classical composers.

Both Williams and Dave reject the notion made by some that challenge teams fill students’ heads with random bits of useless information they’ll never use after college.

And to prove their point, here are the answers to the questions from the beginning. Feel free to whip them out in conversation: Indonesia, Doric, and Red Rocks.


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group