There have been nine presidents, 14,000 high school competitors and more than 200,000 questions during 44 years of the television quiz show "It's Academic." The questions have changed, and society is more complex, but one constant remains: moderator and quiz maestro Mac McGarry.
The bespectacled host of a show that first aired when John F. Kennedy was president still is as quick with a pun as he is with a question, relaxing the mood among jittery teens.
McGarry, of Potomac, said working with young people is what has given him the energy to continue hosting the show since producer Sophie Altman invited him in 1961 to join her WRC television show.
"It is a reflection of their enthusiasm," McGarry said. "I look forward to it; it is always exciting. It allows me the grand delusion that I'm not getting older."
Altman said she was asked by a Montgomery County assistant superintendent decades ago to produce a show that would highlight the academic achievement and success of students. She thought a quiz show would be fun for a few years, never realizing it would last four decades.
The longtime show has sparked competition among Washington area public and private schools as well as a superbowl championship among the best competing schools from the Washington, Baltimore and Charlottesville areas.
"This shows that there is a lot more to school than tests," said Carole Goodman, principal of James Hubert Blake High School, one of three teams that competed in this year's Washington area championship tournament. "Anything that puts academic achievement in the forefront -- and on TV -- is the kind of positive publicity you can't buy."
Over the years, the questions and topics have shifted. When Altman started the show, her researchers and students used encyclopedias to find questions. Today, they use the Internet.
"Kennedy was a household name when the show started," said Altman, who lives in the District. "These kids weren't even born when Kennedy was alive."
Students today are more likely to know the leaders of foreign countries and current events. While they may not remember Watergate, living in and near the nation's capital, they know the historical significance of Deep Throat.
The pressure on the competing teams to respond with quick answers to McGarry's questions has resulted in plenty of humorous scenes. Among his favorites:
"Who was the author who teamed up with Engels to write the 'Communist Manifesto?' The answer given: "Groucho Marx."
"Who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo?" The student eagerly answered "Duke Ellington," not close enough to the Duke of Wellington.
"I tried not to laugh, but I had to hang my head on the rostrum," McGarry said.
Just a few months ago, there was the "Jack Benny kid." A student hit the buzzer too quickly, then realized he didn't know the answer. His teammates were arguing over a response when McGarry asked the captain to respond: "I'm thinking," the student said.
"That broke me up," McGarry said, recalling the famous joke where a robber asked Benny for "your money or your life" and the penny-pincher responded, "I'm thinking." He gently reminded the team that in this game there is no time for reflection.
McGarry has become increasingly impressed with the complicated math equations that students can compute. "It's the simple questions, like what is 20 percent of 50, that stop them," he said.
By far, the biggest change is the technology students use to get information. In 1961, students used heavy reference books and newspapers for research. Today, they belong to online quiz groups.
Now there also are a bevy of coaches who train and lead practices for various quiz competitions throughout the year. There are also high schools bands, cheerleaders and supporters waving signs in the studio audience.
In nearly half a century, McGarry has nurtured generations of high-achieving students. He wishes to keep his personal life private, revealing only after prodding that his own four children -- Stephen, Maura and twins Mark and Andrea -- have spent plenty of time at the show. He and his wife, Babette, who have been married for 46 years, have six grandchildren.
When McGarry started his television career, color technology was not yet a vision. In 1959, he hosted WRC's first all-color variety program, "In Our Town," which aired daily.
Last year, the Guinness Book of World Records named "It's Academic" as the longest-running television quiz show.
In May, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) honored McGarry and Altman for their commitment to fostering academic excellence among high school students.
Altman said she never imagined the show would last so long, but with Giant Food as the longtime corporate sponsor, granting more than $2 million in scholarships, the show has been able to endure the lean years, she said.
Moreno Carrasco, principal of Richard Montgomery High School, who attended the May 21 taping of the Washington area championship game, praised McGarry and the producer for showcasing the county's academic prowess.
"A lot of people take the time to go to football teams," Carrasco said. "This takes time for the real purpose of school."
Students say McGarry's melodic voice is calming and he knows a lot of the answers.
"He's very knowledgeable," said Alex Price, 17, a junior at Walter Johnson High School, a member of this year's winning team. "When I first started as a contestant, I as amazed that he knew the exact year that [baseball Hall of Famer] Walter Johnson died."
"Yeah, we thought he just reads the questions," said team member James Coan, 18, a senior at Walter Johnson. "He's super smart."
During the championship match, McGarry joked with the TV audience that people can now call him "Doctor" since he received an honorary degree from Marymount University in Arlington last month.
But he scoffs at all the attention and accolades. "I was described somewhere as a 'legend,' " McGarry said. "All it means is that I'm old."