November 23, 2017
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  • With two victories already this year, the SPHS “It’s Academic” team of Ben Luke, Antonio Karides and Tyler Smith hope to advance to the finals in their last playoff run together.
    With two victories already this year, the SPHS “It’s Academic” team of Ben Luke, Antonio Karides and Tyler Smith hope to advance to the finals in their last playoff run together.
  • (L-r) Ben Luke, Tyler Smith and Antonio Karides won an “It’s Academic” semifinal match in February against Wilde Lake and Notre Dame Prep.
    (L-r) Ben Luke, Tyler Smith and Antonio Karides won an “It’s Academic” semifinal match in February against Wilde Lake and Notre Dame Prep.

SPHS “It’s Academic” Team Makes One Last Playoff Run

Zach Sparks
View Bio
March 7, 2017

Every team sport has a dynasty – basketball has the ‘90s Chicago Bulls and ‘80s Celtics among others, baseball witnessed the turn-of-the-millennium success of the New York Yankees, and the modern-day New England Patriots in football are the newest members of the dynasty club. The three-man team of Severna Park High School students Antonio Karides, Tyler Smith and Ben Luke have strived to achieve that level of excellence in the world of trivia, making deep runs into the “It’s Academic” playoffs the last three years (four years for Karides), but they hope this is the year they cap their run together with a championship.

The longest-running quiz show on television, “It’s Academic” pits schools against one another in a test of knowledge and buzzer-bashing. To prepare for the competition, a larger group of about a dozen students at SPHS studies history, math, literature, science, sports and current events.

But unlike the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, which each have 30 teams, and the National Football League and its 32 teams, “It’s Academic” this year featured 81 teams from the Baltimore region and 84 from the Washington, D.C. region. So while getting to the playoffs might be easier, teams that advance are facing elite competition in each single-elimination round.

In November, the SPHS team beat Queen Anne’s County and Eastern Tech by almost 400 points to advance to the playoffs. In February — in a match that will be televised May 13 — they scored 595 points, trouncing Wilde Lake (410 points) and Notre Dame Prep (320 points). Despite the lopsided final score, the victory didn’t look easy after Severna Park got off to a sluggish start with the first-round category of men whose first names could be abbreviated to “Ed.”

“We got a little angsty on the buzzer due to nerves I guess, and after the first round we were down, not significantly, but enough to rattle our nerves,” said Smith, a senior. “At that point, I basically said, ‘Guys, calm down. There's still a lot of the game left. Take your time, think, and be certain in your answers. Don't rush anything that you don't need to.’ After that break, we got nearly all of the questions in the next competitive round I believe, and, as they say, the rest is history.”

Luke said he and his teammates didn’t doubt the outcome. “Wilde Lake and Notre Dame Prep were both really smart teams, but we dominated the buzzer in the first round,” Luke said. “Even though we were down 10 points after that first round, it was a good indication that we wouldn't have too much trouble scoring in the rest of the match.”

Aiding the students in their efforts was experience and expertise in numerous subjects, although they each have their own opinion when it comes to their particular strengths.

“Tyler is definitely our go-to for math and capitals, and Antonio is a little better than me in literature. But aside from that, all three of us know a bit of everything we'll see on the show,” Luke said.

Smith said that even when one of them is an “expert” in a certain field, a teammate often has enough knowledge to validate the answer. “My skills probably include more in the realm of geography, science and word puzzles,” he said. “Ben has expertise in pop culture and sports, and Antonio just enjoys hitting the buzzer fast.”

The “It’s Academic” coach, social studies teacher Theresa Goldberg, said the team works confidently in sync without any one person dominating. She also praised the students’ devotion to learning.

“Their parents, their friends, their own interests or natures all combine to make learning exciting and a lifelong goal,” Goldberg said. “It is a button that was pressed before they ever stepped into my classroom. I can take no credit for the success of the team – I bring the doughnuts. Antonio, Tyler and Ben like reading, and they like getting to the bottom of the material — be it the difficult physics problem they are unpacking or memorizing the history of the groundbreaking Qin dynasty.

“Each of these members of my team will be successful in the future because they are made of ‘sterner stuff’ when it comes to their studies,” she added. “They work very hard, and they look forward to getting the next level, where the challenges and the pressures will be even bigger.”

For Smith and Karides, both seniors, that next level is college. As a junior, Luke has one year of eligibility remaining.

For a full list of “It’s Academic” dates and showtimes, visit Viewers can catch the playoff victory on May 13 at 10:00am on WJZ-TV Channel 13. That same day, the SPHS team will film the next semifinal round, and if they advance, they will be in the final.

“As a dynasty of sorts, we're supposed to be getting better and better, and I want to see us go beyond the semifinals this year,” Smith said. “Will it be tough? Absolutely. But I have faith in my team that we can be successful at least one last time.”

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