Arlington Students Compete in WGBH High School Quiz Show
Formed as a bet between friends in an AHS AP class, Arlington's academic team approached the event with humor and poise.
It’s less than an hour to show time at WGBH studios in Brighton Saturday, April 5, as technicians and production assistants scurry backstage in preparation for the taping of High School Quiz show. Behind the bright lights and tangled extension cords on set, high school students from throughout Eastern Massachusetts fidget in the green room, trying to keep their minds and buzzer fingers sharp for the fast-paced academic game show about to begin.
With their opponents from Dartmouth High School huddled in a corner grilling one another on Russian landmarks and internal organs, Arlington High School captain Siddarth Hiregowdara plops on the couch, skimming his Kindle. Teammates Sean Davenport and Anna Blachman ballroom dance in the center of the room. Sam Taylor, Cory Brazile and Shannon Donnellan engage in what has become a rather raucous hand-slap game with their coaches.
This laiz-faire approach and self-assured exuberance has become the cornerstone Arlington’s rookie quiz bowl team, which formed as a bet between friends their AP class.
“They saw the show, organized try-outs, scheduled practices and assigned each other topics,” said Coach Ed Foley, who also teaches at AHS.
Juniors Sam Taylor, Siddarth Hiregowdara and Anna Blachman and seniors Sean Davenport, Cory Brazile and Shannon Donnellan formed the squad in September. After a month of after school study sessions and Jeopardy nights, the team entered the High School Quiz show qualifier against 70 other Eastern Massachusetts public high schools vying for 16 slots in the televised run-off.
Team members that had never competed together—never even practiced with buzzers—now finds themselves among Eastern Massachusetts’ academic elite at the WBGH Quiz Show playoffs.
“Sid [Siddarth] has a strange sense of humor, so when he texted us to tell us that we made it we didn’t believe him,” junior Blachman recalled.
The Spy Ponders team stepped up practices in preparation for Saturday’s first round playoff. They divided up topics, made flashcards and played online trivia games like Sporacle to solidify their knowledge of core academic subjects and current events for the show.
“We provide support and guidance when they need it,” said Assistant Coach Brazile, Arlington substitute teacher and team member Cory’s older brother. “But this really is their endeavor.”
Team members also organized a mock competition last week with their classmates, so preparing for Saturday’s playoff became an enjoyable, rather than stressful activity.
“Their personalities mesh so well. They each have expertise in different areas of knowledge so they compliment each other.” Coach Brazile said.
Even into Saturday morning team members said it hadn't sunk in that they were going to be on TV. That was until one team member (who will remain nameless) showed up to the sqaud’s pre-game breakfast wearing snow boots—a blatant violation of WGBH’s taping day dress code. Their teammate’s footwear faux pas became a running joke during taping and a source for comedic relief as the students tried to stay loose before the show.
The “surrealness” of the televised experience didn’t really hit the Spy Ponders until one famous guest stopped into the green room. Senator John Kerry was at the studio on Saturday to film a question for the show and offered the high-schoolers a pre-game pep talk.
“I want to congratulate you on your terrific efforts,” Kerry said. “Our society, our technology and our future will be shaped through basic education. [The show] is a great way to exercise what you’re already learning in school.”
As Kerry stepped away to take a phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the nerves finally set in for the calm and collected Arlington squad.
“Ok, now I’m ready to throw up,” junior Sam Taylor said as the team lined up to go on stage.
Friends, family members and the Spy Ponders cheerleaders filled the studio audience, sporting school colors and flashing homemade posters in support of the students. Offering one another muffled whispers of encouragement as the cameras rolled, the Arlington team quickly settled in on set. By the end of the show, the students were blowing kisses to crew men between takes and trading quips with Kiss 108 radio personality and quiz show host Bob Costa.
The results of Saturday’s show will not be released until the episode airs later this month. Scores aside, Arlington’s coaches are proud of the effort the team put forth.
“I thought we were very well-prepared,” Coach Brazile said. “It was a great first round of competition for our first time out and the kids stayed mentally tough until the end.”
Saturday’s results are confidential and will be embargoed until after broadcast. Arlington’s first round match against Dartmouth High School airs Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. on WGBH 2. For more information check out WGBH's website.
Major sponsorship for High School Quiz Show is provided by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Safety Insurance, Comcast and Massachusetts Teachers Association.