In all, 18 different teams from a variety of Hudson County schools took part in the tourney. The interest was so high this year among students that the school had to field four different four-member teams.
"Our youngest teams who came out had to compete right away," said Mary Bea Kingwill, who has been involved with the Academic Bowl program since its inception. "Talk about jumping in with both feet. We had no idea what was going to happen."
The Weehawken "Whiz Kids" had a blast hosting the tourney in the competition that best resembles "Jeopardy!," only with a host of questions that might befuddle host Alex Trebek.
Each intense Academic Bowl match features a series of 48 questions - eight questions in each of six different categories. The easier questions are worth 10 points each, with the toughest questions worth 40 points - much like "Jeopardy!"
When it is their turn, each four-member team is allowed to select a question in one of the six categories. The categories usually include subjects taught in high school, like history, geography, literature, science and math, but may also include totally different categories as well.
For example, some of the categories this year were baseball, money, the legal system, physiology, advertising and language/literature/vocabulary.
"It's really hard," said senior Ashka Gami, a Weehawken team captain who has played for three years. "It's tougher than ever. It's nerve wracking when you only have 30 seconds to answer. It gets frustrating because you know the answer and you just can't get it in time."
"It's definitely not an easy thing," said fellow senior Tanvee Tehan. "The questions come out of left field. Like the last time, when we had questions about baseball and no one knew them."
Then those questions literally came out of left field.
"You can say that," Tehan laughed.
The categories are never the same and the teams have no idea what the categories are until a sealed envelope of categories, questions and answers is opened before each scheduled match.
The questions and answered used in the competition are furnished by Questions Unlimited of Columbus, Ohio, which has provided the questions for the Hudson County Academic Bowl since its inception.
Kingwill and Al Cevoli are the faculty advisors and "coaches" for the Weehawken Academic Team. They have practice trivia sessions almost daily to get the team in prime mental condition for competition.
"The other kids come in and watch us practice," Kingwill said. "Everyone gets excited about it."
The participants are certainly having a blast.
"It's definitely worth it," Gami said. "It's just as competitive as any sport. Everyone is on a team, striving for the same goal. It's not as easy as people think it is, but it's fun, nonetheless."
"We're definitely having a lot of fun with it," Tehan said. "It's just like any other competition between schools, like a football game or a band competition. The competition is still pretty intense."
Junior Chris Dorman is another captain of one of Weehawken's teams.
"I like trivia, so it was natural for me to join," Dorman said. "But sometimes, I didn't have a clue of what was going on. One of the categories was French. I don't know a single word of French."
Except perhaps French fries.
"I like being part of the team," Dorman said. "I am really looking forward to being a part of the team again next year."
So how about the questions?
"The questions are tougher than ever, but these kids are very bright and very focused," Kingwill said. "They're doing so well. And they're having fun. When they first came out, I don't think they even realized how much fun they would have. I also don't think they realized how much extraneous knowledge they had. I think they've surprised themselves."
Teams are competitive, social
When the smoke cleared, Weehawken's top team finished fifth overall, just 30 points shy of qualifying for the semifinals.
High Tech High School of North Bergen had two teams and they finished as the two finalists and will square off for the team title on Wednesday.
Kingwill also likes the fact that the tournament serves as a social gathering for the students.
Before each match, all the schools get together in one meeting room, where they get to know each other better. In fact, dates for semi-formals and proms have stemmed from the pre-competition meeting room sessions.
"We try to make it that way, because a lot of them don't go out for sports, so this is the only interaction they would have with other schools," Kingwill said. "They get a chance to meet others and have this common ground."
So the Academic Bowl serves a dual purpose. It makes one wonder if anyone ever hooked up on a date while competing on "Jeopardy."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org