Havre Daily News
The Havre High School Academic Challenge asks students to reduce fractions in a matter of seconds, name that famous American or parse a sentence, but for the most part, it's about speed and fun, not brains. That's according to math teacher Mary Wagner, who has hosted the game since it began at the school 20 years ago as a competition among geometry classes.
Last week 36 teams of four were narrowed down to six teams, which competed Thursday afternoon for first and second place.
When the game started two decades ago, a referee would bang pots and pans to signal the start of a round, or that time was up. Now a scoreboard is borrowed from the gym and buzzers from a local church. But the competition has not come far from its raucous roots.
"The audience will get involved," Wagner said in an interview before it began. "There will be explosions. There will be controversy. There will be ejections."
Every other year, students have been expelled from the audience, she said. This year, when Wagner had a room set aside as a penalty box, the students were well behaved - by Academic Challenge standards, anyway - and the room stayed empty.
Many questions come from teachers regarding the subjects they teach, such as chemistry, marketing and home economics. Wagner also likes to have "fun" categories, such as "sing the next line" and "name that staff member," a new category this year.
For example: You drink coffee from this - plus - you breath this - plus - "a." The answer, "Magera," for history teacher Jim Magera. Or, a free meal from a restaurant, "Comp," for teacher Chris Comp.
The "fun" categories come from Spanish teacher Marie Deegan.
After the game, Wagner said she was as nervous as the students were when the buzzer sounded the beginning. Most of it was nervous excitement. She had vaguely, and half-jokingly, worried that she would have two sons in the finals of the game. And she did.
The team of seniors Gary Wagner, Kyle Baltrusch, Tyson Parman and Marc Mariani won the challenge for the second year in a row. In second place were sophomores Billy Wagner, Nathan Harada, Chris Brandt and Brian Heath.
Though Gary Wagner said after winning that his team was the smartest, his mother was on hand to set him straight.
You have to be lucky and fast, she said.
Some teams dressed up for the competition, such as a team of four who wore shirts that said "Smart," but with the letters backward, inverted and askew.
A team of seniors dressed in 1970s-style suits and dress shirts, with big hair and aviator glasses.
The stylish clothes didn't get the team to the finals, though team member Tyler Crossley said, "This is the best we've done."
The one sore spot with Crossley, which he said with a sneer, was that his team lost to underclassmen.
After all, the true prize is clear. Though the winners do take home a plaque, mostly they win "bragging rights for one year," Wagner said.