Atish Choudhury could have shouted, "I'm going to Disney World," after his Montgomery Blair High School team came from behind to claim the 1995 championship of the "It's Academic" television quiz show broadcast yesterday.
But the 16-year-old high school graduate didn't have to: He and his teammates were already in Orlando, competing in yet another brain-busting tournament. The team's dual appearances were made possible by the fact that the "It's Academic" Super Bowl was videotaped nearly a month ago and broadcast only last night.
No matter. The delayed broadcast did little to dull the Blair team's excitement at beating 160 other schools in the nation's oldest televised high school quiz tournament. The victory marked the Silver Spring school's first championship in the 34-year history of the program and the school's eighth title in 14 national and local academic contests during the last school year.
"It's been a fabulous year for Blair," chemistry teacher Michael Kravitz said in a telephone interview from Walt Disney World, where he is leading a six-member Maryland academic team competing against teams from 44 other states in the three-day Panasonic Academic Challenge. "We should do well," Kravitz said. "The It's Academic' starting team is all here."
"It's Academic" is a quiz show that sets three schools against one another as they race the clock to answer questions on a wide range of topics, including mathematics, biology, history and current events. Host Mac McGarry often is interrupted in mid-question as students sound their buzzers to give the answers.
Blair lost the Washington area championship last year to the eventual winner, Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County. And the school's three-member squad got off to a slow start in this year's championship, trailing Wilde Lake High School in Columbia and Woodbury Forest High School in central Virginia after the opening round.
The Blair team didn't pull ahead until the final round to capture the title. More than 160 schools from Baltimore to Charlottesville competed this year, winning trophies and scholarships. Blair captured $2,650 in scholarships during five rounds.
As Montgomery County's only math and science magnet school, Blair could bring plenty of smarts to the Panasonic competition. At 16, Choudhury is headed to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore this fall, where he will enter as a sophomore chemistry major. Sophomore Gautam Makunda, 16, scored a perfect 1,600 on the Scholastic Assessment Test given in April. Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Schlaifer found time between studies to sing in the school's recent production of "The Music Man." Samit Dasgupta, who earned fourth place this year in the nation's top science fair, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, was one of six alternate team members.
Robert B. Lasco, a Blair media specialist who, like Kravitz, advises the team as a co-sponsor, said the squad practiced for about two hours a week. The rest of the time, students were encouraged to memorize lists of information, such as the names of presidents in the order they were elected, their vice presidents, their party affiliations and key facts about their lives and careers.
"To win at It's Academic,' you have to be able to keep all this information sorted and be able to retrieve it rapidly. We have students with that ability in spades," Lasco said. CAPTION: Blair quiz team members Gautam Makunda, Atish Choudhury and Jonathan Schlaifer on the set of "It's Academic."