GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 11, 2012

Quiz kids find a new cool at Rockport High

By Marjorie Nesin Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — A group of Rockport teens meet after school each week to practice trivia, hoping to win a spot on WGBH’s High School Quiz Show again.

But, the practice is more than just quizzing, and more than a chance to hang out, too.

It’s a shot at grabbing a portion of the pride and glory floating around the small school.

When the team competed on last year’s the televised High School Quiz Show — the TV game show that pits one high school team against another in answering a wide range of trivia questions — as one of top 16 schools in the state last year, an audience of students, parents and school staff waved “Rockport” signs and clapped and cheered as the Rockport students clicked buzzers and rattled off answers to host Billy Costa’s questions.

History teachers Neil Dineen and Martha Cooney work with the students, quiz them and joke with them at practice, creating a space for extracurricular academics in the school’s culture.

“I’d like to make it cool to be smart again,” Cooney said. “Academics have kind of taken the back seat to athletics forever and we want to change that.”

The teens nod and agree, saying the key to cool is membership on a sports team, and noting the lack of budget for academic groups, though Cooney said acquiring funding for competitions tends to be straightforward.

Sophomore Sophie Palmer said students have learned the information that comes out in the form of answers by acting as a sponge, listening, watching and absorbing.

“Reading, experiencing, listening to media, you just consume information through as many orifices as you can,” Sophie Palmer said.

And, the team will use their knowledge during WGBH’s Nov. 4 Super Sunday, when WGBH tests students from 100 Massachusetts schools to determine the teams qualifying for the televised rounds of the show. Only the top scoring 16 teams will move on to the first round.

Last year, Rockport reached semifinals in the televised matches, and was the first team in High School Quiz Show history to fall out after a tie. Hamilton-Wenham knocked the team out in the semifinals round with a sudden death win. But, this year, the Rockport students intend to surpass Hamilton-Wenham and any other team that stands between them and the prize trophy, plaques and $250 to share.

“The goal is to win, obviously,” Cooney said. The state’s winning team also competes against New Hampshire’s winner.

This year’s Rockport panel, a group already determined by a preliminary quiz, consists of sophomore Corey Silver, senior Evan Razdan, sophomore Quenton Hurst, and junior Alexandra Legendre, with alternates sophomore Oliver Herman and sophomore Nate Allen.

Silver and Razdan competed on Rockport’s team last year. And the publicity encouraged a lot of kids to join up this year, expanding the team to 12 members, according to Cooney. Silver said the game show concept drew him in when he first decided to participate too.

“I saw it on T.V., and I always liked playing along with Jeopardy, and I thought it’d be fun,” Silver said.

Everyone — competitors, alternates and the rest of the group alike — participates at practice. Students scoot desks into a half circle around Cooney’s desk once a week, leaving their backpacks in a pile at the door.

Cooney called out questions at Tuesday’s practice, covering topics ranging from mathematics to history and even religion and language.

Nelson Pike nailed an answer — and drummed his hands against his desk while kicking up his feet. Sayles Kasten reached over for a high 5, while Kelly Biondo laughed at his celebratory jig.

“We have fun here, don’t we?” Cooney asks rhetorically, before moving on to a more puzzling wringer.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.