The show is a spin-off on The Long Island Challenge, which has been running for eight seasons.
Representing Union Hill High School are team members Mario Fernandez, Christine Mockert, Nancy El Shami, Team Captain Henry Rodriguez, and alternate Jasmine Berry. They will be facing off against Teaneck's Ma'ayanot Yeshiva in the first round of the show.
Moderated by News 12 New Jersey Anchor Tom Layson, the first round of the competition will air exclusively on Cablevision's Channel 12 on Saturday, Feb. 25, and Sunday, Feb. 26, respectively at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
"The New Jersey Challenge is a terrific educational opportunity for both participants and viewers who enjoy playing along at home," said Adam Falk, Cablevision's regional vice president of Public Affairs. "The students work very hard to prepare, and each half-hour match is packed with excitement."
Union Hill, which was entered into the contest by academic advisors Patricia Ferrante and Sandy Montesano, was one of 32 New Jersey high schools chosen to compete in the premiere season of The New Jersey Challenge.
"Just the opportunity to go out and compete, this is only going to help them in the future," said Principal David Wilcomes. "We are very competitive with the schools that have [stellar] reputations, and we surpass our expectations. Our students always manage to make us proud."
The five students selected, who are all seniors, are also regular participants in the school's other extracurricular activities, such as the Hudson County Mock Trial, which they recently won.
"We are already a part of these programs, and this gave us the opportunity to be on TV," said Fernandez. The seniors were not given much time to prepare, but they were shown a taping of The Long Island Challenge and given sample questions from which they could study.
"They showed us the video. Then I went home and did some research," said Mockert.
The taping and competition have already taken place, but before taping, the students also had the opportunity to get to know their competition from Ma'ayanot Yeshiva. After some brief introductions and final preparations, the Union "Hillers" went on to relish their first broadcast experience.
"When we got there we were given the TV treatment," said Mockert. "They put the shine-proof makeup on us, and during the breaks we would joke around and pretend we were news anchors."
"Just participating and getting used to the [program] was a great experience for our students," said Wilcomes.
The quiz show was set up in a Jeopardy!-style fashion, where the students had the chance to pick out their categories and point value, and buzz in with the correct answer.
Some of the categories tackled that night were current events, literature, humanities, and TV/media. The students had to be quick, especially in the lighting round, which Union Hill dominated.
"Even if you weren't sure, you still had to get it before the other team," said Rodriguez.
There were also other categories like national parks, which Mockert excelled in, to her surprise.
"It's just the luck of the draw," said Mockert.
Of course there were some mishaps, such as the students locking themselves out of answering a question for buzzing in too quickly, or saying something they hope will be cut when the show is edited.
"It's fun to see because these are our top students, and you see they can mistakes too," said Montesano. "We're really proud of them. How could you not be?"
As schools progress through a series of elimination rounds throughout the competition, the final two best teams will move on to face each other for the New Jersey Championship and compete for approximately $20,000 in prizes.
"It's something that we have never experienced before, and [during senior year] you try to fit everything in before you leave," said Mockert.
The winner of championship, which will culminate in June, will then compete with the championship team from Long Island in a first of its kind interstate Challenge Championship.
"This is a credit to the student and to the teachers, who put in this extra time and extra effort," said Wilcomes. "This is also a reflection of the education system here in Union City, and Superintendent Stanly Sanger and the Board of Education, who back these programs to the max."
The New Jersey Challenge is sponsored by Cablevision's Power to Learn, News 12, PSE&G, and Nissan.
"Cablevision is proud to support our young scholars and is committed to providing quality local programming," said Falk. "We wish Union Hill and Ma'ayanot Yeshiva good luck as they face off in round one."
For more information on The New Jersey Challenge, including contestant biographies, visit www.powertolearn.com.