Proving their smarts

St. Lawrence Central Whiz Quiz champions, from left, are Logan Wultsch-Fuller, Emily Taylor, Dylan Bissonette, John Snyder and Mia Snyder. Christopher Lenney/ Watertown Daily Times

BRASHER FALLS — It was a championship year for St. Lawrence Central School’s team in this year’s WPBS Whiz Quiz competition.

The team, which consisted of Dylan Bissonette, Emily Taylor, John Snyder, Logan Wultsch-Fuller and alternate Mia Snyder, defeated Immaculate Heart Central to claim this year’s Glenn Gough Championship Trophy and $1,500 for the school’s Scholarship Fund.

Now in its 41st year, the show was initially hosted by Mr. Gough until his retirement in 2018. This year’s host was Joleene DesRosiers.

In winning this year’s championship trophy, St. Lawrence Central School faced off against other teams in the St. Lawrence, Franklin and Lewis county regions in single-elimination tournaments. The finals were aired last Friday on WPBS and are also available for online viewing at

Teams of four and up to two alternates compete in four rounds, following the game’s traditional format, answering questions covering a variety of topics, including geography, math and literature.

“It’s single elimination, so as soon as you lose, you’re out,” Mr. Snyder said.

But they didn’t lose, and they made five trips to Watertown to compete against other high school teams that had also advanced.

To qualify for the trips to Watertown, interested students had to complete a test given by teacher Christian Normile, the team’s advisor. The students are tested on questions from old Whiz Quiz episodes, and the four highest grades make the team.

The questions the students faced in Watertown were varied.

“Geography, history, arts, music, math, science,” Ms. Taylor said.

“Anything academic under the sun,” Mr. Snyder said.

One of the keys to the team’s success was the distance between St. Lawrence Central School and the WPBS studios in Watertown.

“We had the advantage. There’s a lot of schools that are like 10, 15, 30 minutes away. Because we live like an hour-and-a-half away from Watertown, we spend about an hour every time we’re going to Watertown practicing. We’ll find some old questions. So it was like training time,” Ms. Taylor said.

They also are able to watch older Whiz Quiz competitions on the WPBS website to get a feel for what they might face, Mr. Bissonette said.

“They’re on their toes. Like Emily mentioned, we would go over questions on the way down and the best part is, whatever the topic of the question was, everybody would jump in and name what else they knew about that subject. So, if the answer to my practice question was Teddy Roosevelt, everybody would say, ‘Oh yeah, he did the Panama Canal.’ They almost created their own study,” Mr. Normile said.

The students said that during the competition some questions are “pretty average.”

“And then there are some that are just absolutely incredibly difficult. You’d have to really very specifically know that one thing to get the question right,” Mr. Wultsch-Fuller said.

Teams compete in four rounds during every match. For the first round, only one team can answer the questions posed to them.

“So, we all get a question. If the other team knows it, they can’t buzz in an answer, though, because it’s our question. So, if we know it, we get 10 points,” Mr. Snyder said.

The second round is one-on-one, with one person from the St. Lawrence Central team matched against one person from the opposing team.

“You can’t really talk to your team. So, it’s whoever buzzes in first and gets it right,” Mr. Wultsch-Fuller said.

The third round is team competition again, but the questions are up for grabs. In the third round, everything is subject-related, with three questions per subject. If one team answers the second question correctly, that team is exclusively allowed to answer the third question, which is worth extra points.

The fourth round is another one that’s up for grabs. But if one team answers the question incorrectly, the other team gets its own exclusive question that only it can answer, and it might be easier than the one the first team was asked to answer.

“So, the players on the go have to answer, ‘Is it worth taking a chance on this or not’ because if it’s a wild guess, you’re probably going to help the other team out. They have to decide kind of their odds of getting that right,” Mr. Normile said.

Speed is an essential part of the game. Teams have five seconds to answer most questions except math, where they could take 10 seconds.

“The other team’s coach came along and congratulated us and said that our team was just so quick. Their team knew the answers still, but he was really impressed by them. He said, ‘You know, we knew the questions, but your team just got it quicker and got on a roll’ and he was very complimentary about it. It’s your listening skills. There’s no written words like Jeopardy unless it’s on a math question, so you have to be an excellent listener,” Mr. Normile said.

“I think that’s definitely what helped us more than anything because a lot of those kids, they’re just as smart. They knew all the questions. All the schools pretty much did, but it’s just who can answer it first. It’s cool to see things that these high school kids know. The one that pops in my head is Thousand Islands. They were very good. They would answer questions that I had never even heard of,” Mr. Wultsch-Fuller said.

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