The Purdy High School Academic Team will head into sectional competition on Thursday against Fordland. The squad moves into the final rounds of its season after a big win over rival Thomas Jefferson to win the Ozark 7 Conference title and defeating Southwest last Saturday to win the district crown.
Purdy's Academic Team has a storied history. The team has won the district title 10 of the last 15 years since its beginning in 1996. Purdy took fourth in state in 2001, 2007 and 2009.
According to faculty sponsor Adam Wilhite, the academic team competition is shaped much like the old TV "College Bowl" show. Questions come from core academic areas, such as math, music, literature, science and history. Students, most of whom have a subject specialty, claim the right to answer the question by hitting the buzzer first.
How does a team excel?
"We practice," said Nicole Terry, the team captain. "We study who wrote what and who invented what."
"Having a plethora of knowledge is also important," Wilhite said
Wilhite, who is coaching the team for the second year, credited much of its success to his predecessor, Bob Dohn, who started the program. Dohn still helps with state competition preparation.
Wilhite still uses the "playbook" Dohn developed for drilling students with lists, such as the top 10 composers, top deserts and rivers, kings and queens and important battles in history. He also showed students how to remember by association. Wilhite expands and refreshes the strategy for each season.
Questions typically contain three clues to the answer. The sharpest players get the edge by breaking down the questions and responding to the first and most difficult clue.
Wilhite drills team members in core subjects like literature by starting with book titles, then connecting titles with characters and plots. A number of questions recur in contests, so he makes sure the players are ready for those, cautioning that thousands of questions can be used in the contest.
Many team members have competed for years. Terry is in her sixth year, having started in middle school and going to state twice with her brother, Logan, in his junior and senior years.
"I think the Academic Team is a good outlet," Terry said. "I'm as competitive as they come. And it's nice to know all those little fun facts. It impresses people."
"I like to learn a lot of new stuff," said sophomore Sophia Parmenter, who is competing for the first year on the team. "I never thought I was good at remembering multiple topics. I've found I can learn a lot more than I thought."
Like Terry, Parmenter has family history in the field. Her mother went to state in Illinois on an academic team.
Wilhite said he tries to develop team members from the middle school, counts on fellow teachers for referrals of freshmen and does some recruiting of exceptional students.
Beating Thomas Jefferson was the team's great achievement of the year. The Thomas Jefferson team had beaten Purdy in a round-robin tournament earlier in the season. For the conference championship, the contest came down to a single question against Thomas Jefferson. Purdy carried the day with the answer "Agatha Christie."
As a Class 1 school, Purdy will not see their local rival again. The next objective is to beat Fordland.
"They're really good," Wilhite said. "We lost to them in January at the Richland tournament by four questions. We need to play the game the way it is meant to be played and concentrate where we excel if we're going to win."