By Marissa Yelenik
Pictured above: Hammond’s It’s Academic Team from left, Tom Berheimer, Julia Moyer, Ama Stott, shown competing virtually through Zoom.
On November 14, 2020, the Hammond It’s Academic Team won their first competition of the year against Harford Tech and Perry Hall. The team consists of team captain Tom Berkheimer, as well as members Ama Stott, Julia Moyer, and their coach Kate Pfanstiehl.
The competition took place on October 18 over Zoom, airing a month later on the station WJZ at 10 a.m. Hammond received 455 points, compared to Hartford Tech’s 430, and Perry Hall’s 360.
This year’s competitions are much different than those from previous years due to the shift to a virtual setting. Hammond’s team captain, Senior Tom Berkheimer, gave some insight into the new experience. “The main difference is that there is no longer competitive buzzing because it just isn’t possible to be fair with everyone’s different internet speeds. Unfortunately, this does eliminate one of the best elements of the original game in which you were allowed to interrupt the question if you were confident of the answer, taking a risk in order to answer first.”
In addition to this, the teams are not able to see the others play until the airing date. Each team answers their questions separate from the others, meaning they do not even know who won until everyone has finished their individual segments.
Senior Ama Stott added in her own perspective on the new method, stating that the virtual competition was a much different experience and “it was less nerve-wracking to answer questions in front of the camera than a live studio audience.”
Senior Julia Moyer agreed, adding “I was an alternate last year and was able to watch the match live in the TV studio, so I could see the pressure of being under the lights with an audience and big cameras. I think it being virtual took away some of that pressure which allowed me to be pretty relaxed, a lot more than I think I would be if the competition was in person.”
Although the transition has been strange, Tom revealed the amazing work done by the recording crew for It’s Academic. “Everybody from It’s Academic has been fantastic. They were ready to transition to virtual, and they’re committed to making the best show both for us contestants and for everybody watching at home. They have a really smooth system setup for recording over Zoom… Dave Zahren, the host, was as professional as ever. He brought the same enthusiastic energy this year as every year, and he always does a great job of putting us all at ease.”
Hammond’s team works hard each week to prepare for their competitions. They spend time watching previous episodes, doing practice questions, and memorizing countless facts such as presidents’ names and when they served, classic literary works and authors, and countries along with their capitals. Although only the TV team takes part in the actual competition, they practice with their coach and teammates during meetings. Julia expressed her appreciation for all their help, saying “I am extremely thankful for our coach Mrs. Pfanstiehl who has been immensely supportive and always brings excitement to our meetings. Our teammates also have been extremely supportive and are an integral part of our preparation.”
Anyone interested in joining the club should feel free to do so. Julia revealed her own reasons for joining the team, saying “so many other experiences have been taken away from me as well as the entire senior class this year. It’s Academic has been a fantastic way to spend time with some great people who also love to learn new things.”
For any of those wondering about the experience itself, the club is about more than just memorizing facts, as stated by Tom. “Playing the game is a unique skill in itself. You have to be able to make the connections between facts quickly and under time pressure. You also have to recall those names that are ‘on the tip of your tongue.’ To help with this, we just watch a lot of old episodes and get comfortable with the rhythm and the way that the game is played… if you have an interest in anything – not just academic, but any hobby or place or type of food – then you’re naturally going to want to learn about it and find out all of the stories associated with that thing. That’s really how I prepare for It’s Academic, by always keeping my eyes and ears open no matter what I’m doing.”
Access It’s Academic episodes at this link: https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/category/its-academic/