Stereotypes anger Lisa Ferguson -- especially the ones that classify an intelligent person as a "nerd."

"It's a shame that anyone who has an I.Q. above 100 immediately is stereotyped as having plaid shirts, glasses taped together and wearing a pocket protector," said Ferguson, a 16-year-old junior at Laurel High School.

Those who belong to the Laurel "It's Academic" team are classified as belonging to "a nerd herd," she said.

"It {the stereotyping} infuriates me," Ferguson said. "It's everything I'm not. If you don't fit in to one of {the cliques}, you're kind of lost. You blend into the walls. I would rather be a brain than nothing."

But if "brainy" students aren't nerds, what are they?

"Intellectuals," said Ferguson. "We're not nerds."

Russell Sellers, the "It's Academic" team coach at Laurel, confirmed that some students view team members as "geeks or nerds or eggheads."

"A lot of them don't realize that they can do it {be on the team}, too," he said. "They soon learn it's not hard to do. In my experience, the kids on the team are as much 'with it' as anyone else."

Now in its 27th year, "It's Academic" is a forum for students to demonstrate their knowledge in a wide range of subjects, including science, math, literature, sports and history. Eighty-one schools from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia compete on the show. There are 27 first-round games, with play beginning in September, followed by playoff games in March. The winners from the Washington, Baltimore and Charlottesville, Va. regions then play each other in a "Super Bowl" during the spring.

Ferguson admitted that she was a little intimidated before joining the school's team in September. One of last year's members went on to Harvard University on a scholarship.

As she had watched the "It's Academic" TV quiz show over the last three years, she would say to herself, "There's no way I can know that."

But she joined the team to learn more and is now the team manager. Her job is to ask questions during the practice sessions and chart the areas her team is strong or weak in.

Ferguson, who calls herself "an A-B student," is amazed at how much she has learned in the months since September. "You wouldn't believe how much you pick up from people," she said. "It's amazing how much you retain."

"Competition helps in learning," she said. "It makes learning fun for a change."

The main goal of most area "It's Academic" teams is to do well on the TV show, shown locally on Sunday mornings on WRC-Channel 4. Three teams from different schools compete during the show, which is taped in front of a live audience.

Sophie Altman, the executive producer of the show who also helped create it, said the format of "It's Academic" has changed over the years. Instead of consisting entirely of questions read by host Mac McGarry, the show is now faster-paced and includes slides and video graphics. Cheerleaders and bands are allowed to perform during the program.

"It's like a Friday-night football game," Altman said. "There's a great deal of excitement when the pep band is playing and the cheerleaders are doing their routines."

McGarry, host of the program since it began, said the addition of bands and cheerleaders has livened the atmosphere. "Why shouldn't {the academic teams} have it?" McGarry asked. "If the football players can have it, the scholars should have it, too.

"It would be nice if the spotlight shone on the students instead of the athletes," McGarry said. "I think we're doing something important and very necessary to the community, getting out the fact that these students are doing well in school. They're forward-looking and they're eager to accept the responsibility of adulthood. It gives you confidence in the future."

"It's very good for students," said Alex Siverstein, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt. "It pushes you. You're encouraged to pick up a book. It takes a little competition and a little pressure to make people move and operate . . . a little fire under the seat."

A raging fire has been burning under Silverstein's seat since he first joined the team during his sophomore year.

"I fell in love with the club, and the rest is history," said Silverstein, who's been captain of the Roosevelt team for the past two years.

Silverstein likes to psych out the opposition by joking with the camera crew and the audience, sometimes re-creating scenes from movies with his teammates before the show and during commercials.

"I like to ham it up," he said. "The other team will be looking at me like, 'Why isn't he nervous?' "

He joined the team during his sophomore year, but he remembers it had a bad reputation among other students. "Everyone pictures a bunch of eggheads sitting around a teacher, answering questions," he said. "But that's not the case. Everyone has a great time."

Silverstein, who has a 3.4 grade point average and is interested in law and politics as career choices, said he has learned a lot since joining the team. "A lot of facts I should have forgotten," he said, laughing. "It's not trivia. It's facts that most people forget."

Who is the 13th U.S. president, for example? Silverstein doesn't hesitate with the answer: Millard Fillmore.

"At Roosevelt, you go through all the classes, and facts are thrown at you, and you're expected to remember them," he said. "You get to the test or the final . . . and then usually after that, you forget.

"But you get to "It's Academic," and you remember. You have to."

Gerald Greenbaum, the coach at Roosevelt, uses trivia and quiz books as references to challenge the 25 members of the school's team. He also tells them to memorize the basics: capitals of other nations, U.S. presidents, major authors and their works, and the list goes on.

"They're proud they know more than someone else," he said. "They're proud to beat another school."

Greenbaum, a math teacher who has been coaching the Roosevelt team for 10 years, said he encourages all students to come out for the team -- even though only three will be able to appear on the TV show at one time. The value in tossing around facts, while having fun at the same time, he said, is that it helps the students in school. "It makes them more rounded," he said. "They're not one-dimensional."

Laurel coach Sellers said the 4.0 students don't necessarily do well on the "It's Academic" show. Other factors, such as quickness of recall and coolness under pressure, also play important roles.

But Sellers is amazed at how some students can recall even the most trivial facts. "They have brains like magnets," he said. "They love to store bits of information."

Sellers, an English teacher who is also Laurel's soccer coach, said that people tend to play down the importance of an academic team compared to an athletic team.

"Personally, I think {the academic team} is more important. If you get back to the reason we're at school, it is to learn. Sports are great. Unfortunately, we tend to underestimate, or de-emphasize academics, and it takes a back seat to sports."

"I see it as a sport," said Roosevelt's Silverstein. "There's scrimmaging, a coach, you have to practice. And it takes concentration and a lot of effort. The fact that we're demeaned . . . doesn't make sense to me. We're an important part of Eleanor Roosevelt. We should be recognized as a team, not a club."