Not often do students get the chance to best their teachers in an academic competition. But for pupils at Sidwell Friends School, it is a yearly event.
Last Wednesday, the school hosted its mock version of the popular television quiz show "It's Academic," pitting two three-member student teams against a team of three teachers. The students won again, as they have in nine of the 10 years the contest has been held.
Mac McGarry, who has hosted the real show since it began 22 years ago on Channel 4 (WRC-TV), was there to read off quiz questions on history, literature, science and the bizarre.
"Their reflexes are faster," student team coach Richard Brady said, in an explanation of why the students won. After a question is read the team that pushes a button first gets to answer.
"We're expected to win. It'd be embarrassing to lose to them," said student team captain Dan Singer.
Singer said he and the other nine members of the squad that represents the school on the real "It's Academic" tournament, most of them seniors, practice three or four days a week in preparation for the show, memorizing boxes full of old "It's Academic" questions and lists of information. All who participated in the mock contest are squad members.
"There's a finite body of knowledge and we know what they're going to ask," Singer said.
Some of the questions are simple: A Hard Day's Night was the first feature film starring what rock group? Answer: The Beatles. But most questions are not so easy. For example: How many possible permutations are there of six elements? Answer: 720.
For Sidwell Friends' mock show, students prepared the questions; for the real show help is solicited from scholars and academics.
Mac McGarry was greeted with a standing ovation from the 400 9th through 12th graders who came to watch their champions perform. "Congratulations to the faculty members who had enough nerve to show up for this," he said to the crowd.
Once the match began, the pace was quick. "There are 300 people in a line, and each one takes about 5 seconds to be served. How long in minutes will it be until they're all taken care of?" McGarry asks. The students' A Team gets to the button first. There is quick consultation between members. "Twenty-five," answers Singer, spokesman for the team. He's right and the team gets 20 points. A wrong answer in this round would garner a 20-point penalty.
After four rounds the score was 400 for the student B Team, 400 for the student A Team and 230 for the faculty.
Sidwell Friends has traditionally done well in the real "It's Academic" competition. The school came in second last year, edged out by Walt Whitman High School of Bethesda.
The television tournament includes 243 students from 82 schools in the metropolitan area, according to executive producer Sophia Altman. Shows are taped four at a time on Saturdays and shown at a later date. The winning schools advance and the losers are out of the tournament. This year's final show will be aired Sunday, June 19, at 9:30 a.m.
McGarry, who also works as an announcer for WRC-TV and as a talk show host on WRC--AM radio, said he enjoys hosting "It's Academic."
" It makes intelligent teen-agers important people," he said. "It brings them to the level of the athletes."