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With new sponsors, ‘It’s Academic’ lives on to keep quizzing high school students

Hillary Howard on the set of “It’s Academic.” The long-running high school quiz show has new sponsors, David M. Rubenstein and MITRE. (Robin Trepanier/“It’s Academic”)

He patched up the Washington Monument, enlarged the Kennedy Center and built a home for the giant pandas. Now billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein has thrown his support behind another Washington cultural fixture: He’s signed on as the title sponsor of the long-running high school quiz show “It’s Academic.”

MITRE, the research and development group, has also pledged its support as the show’s new platinum sponsor.

In the spring, Giant Food announced that after 54 years, it would no longer be supporting “It’s Academic.” It was the latest hurdle for the program, which had to move production studios when its previous studios were being renovated, then figure out how to produce shows over Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic. The gifts from Rubenstein and MITRE mean the “It’s Ac” folks can breathe easier.

“This allowed us to keep going,” said Robin Trepanier, one of the show’s producers. “Obviously we are thrilled. I think what my grandmother would say is we’re just over the moon.”

That grandmother was Sophie Altman, who created “It’s Academic” in 1961. The 61st season of the show will start taping in September — probably on Zoom at first, then at the World MediaNet studio at National Harbor. As it has from the start, it will air on WRC-TV.

When I spoke on the phone with Rubenstein, 71, I asked what he had been like as a teenager at the large public high school he attended, Baltimore City College.

“I guess the word ‘nerd’ was probably invented for me,” Rubenstein said. “I would say I did the best I could with whatever I had. I wouldn’t say I was a superstar. I was okay. I always liked watching those kinds of shows, to remind myself what little I knew.”

You turned out just fine, David!

Jim Cook, 61, shepherded the donation from MITRE, where he is vice president for strategic engagement and partnerships. He was in the first graduating class of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. He thinks “It’s Academic” is a good fit for MITRE.

“When we talk about athletes, we acknowledge the strength of the stars,” Cook said. “We also talk about the accomplishments of the team. That’s what ‘It’s Academic’ does. The students that compete are there on their own merits, but they have to compete as a team. They only win as a team. We think that combination is very much in line with what we value as well.”

The show would not release the details of the sponsorship, so I have no idea how much MITRE and Rubenstein shelled out. Rubenstein told me someone mentioned to him that “It’s Academic” needed a new sponsor. “I said, ‘Okay, provided I don’t have to answer any of the questions,’ ” he said.

Reunited, and it feels so good

Last year was a hard one for high schools planning reunions. If you graduated in a year ending in zero, there’s a good chance you didn’t get together. If you did, it was probably on Zoom.

But reunion committees have been active this spring, gearing up for in-person gatherings. Here are some upcoming reunions for area high schools. Many of them are combined events, pulling together more than one class.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1970 — Oct. 9. Email

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1971 — Oct. 2. Email

Bladensburg High Class of 1951 — A Zoom reunion will be held June 19 at 1 p.m. Contact Dorothy Mudd Gundling at

Winston Churchill High classes of 1970 and 1971 — Combined reunion, Oct. 16. Visit

Calvin Coolidge High Class of 1960 — Oct. 29 and 30. Email Francine Gordon Levinson at or Helen Hengamanole Farmer at

DeMatha Catholic High classes of 1970 and 1971 — Combined reunion, Aug. 28. Send email to

Albert Einstein High classes of 1979 and 1980 — Combined reunion, Oct. 9. Email James Helton at

Oakton High Class of 1971 — Sept. 25. Email Bill Mountjoy at

Wheaton High Class of 1970 — Oct. 15 and 16. Visit

Walt Whitman Class of 1970 — Oct. 7-11. Email Alan Ross at

Woodrow Wilson High Class of 1970 — Oct. 23 Email or Or visit “Woodrow Wilson High School (DC) Class of ’70 50th Reunion” on Facebook.

W.T. Woodson High Class of 1971 — Oct. 16. Contact Mac Sheridan at 425-879-4897 or

Yorktown High Class of 1970 — Oct. 1 and 2. Visit or email

Yorktown High Class of 1971 — Oct. 9. Email Randy Mayes at

Twitter: @johnkelly

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