‘It’s Academic’ and it’s . . . ours!

After their victory, Rappahannock's Scholastic Bowl team of (from left, reclining) Danny Collins, Clayton Hatcher and Malcolm Perry pose with RCHS cheerleaders (from left) Kayla McGhee, Camaron Clark, Sarah Coffman, Renee Jenkins, Katie Kestner (behind the Panther), Lisa Leidenheimer and Stephanie Nicholson. Photo by Jan McKinney.
After their victory, Rappahannock’s Scholastic Bowl team of (from left, reclining) Danny Collins, Clayton Hatcher and Malcolm Perry pose with RCHS cheerleaders (from left) Kayla McGhee, Camaron Clark, Sarah Coffman, Renee Jenkins, Katie Kestner (behind the Panther), Lisa Leidenheimer and Stephanie Nicholson. Photo by Jan McKinney.

Never had junior Clayton Hatcher seen Rappahannock County High School Scholastic Bowl head coach David Naser so ecstatic.

A moment after television host Mac McGarry announced Saturday evening that the Panthers won the Central Virginia “It’s Academic” title, Naser bolted from his seat in the audience and raced to congratulate Hatcher, senior team captain Malcolm Perry and freshman Danny Collins.

Rappahannock County finished with 470 points, edging Orange County (460) and Charlottesville (440).

It marked the first time in the three years that the Panthers have been competing on “It’s Academic,” the televised quiz show featured on Washington’s WRC-4, that they advanced to the “Super Bowl” telecast in June.

That Super Bowl will pit Rappahannock County against the champions from the Baltimore area and Washington, D.C. area high schools.

The winning team will go home with a $1,500 check. Runners up receive $750 each.

The taping for the Super Bowl will be held May 14.

“This was the happiest that I’ve ever seen Mr. Naser,” Hatcher said. “I thought if we could get out of the first round, we had a chance to win.”

Collins agreed.

“I don’t think Mr. Naser realized it at first that we won,” he added. “Then, he came running up and shaking hands.”

The final nine seconds of the match proved to be the most intense, Hatcher added.

Rappahannock County held a 470-460 lead over Orange County as seconds ticked off the clock. McGarry read the final question. With five seconds left, the buzzer went off.

“I looked around to see which team it was,” Hatcher said.

Fortunately, for the Panthers, Charlottesville, a perennial Group AA state power in Scholastic Bowl, claimed the final 10 points as time expired.

“The match was even all the way through,” said Naser, whose Panthers pocketed $1,000 for future Scholastic Bowl events. “I was worried when we didn’t get the 25-point bonus, but the 10-point lead was good enough.”

The win came as a surprise to Collins.

“I was not expecting it,” he added. “Especially to beat Charlottesville, because I knew how good they usually are.”

Winning the Central Virginia championship capped what had been a long day for the Panthers. They spent the first four hours watching other schools compete through a slew of technical problems.

The delay did not dampen their spirits. Rappahannock County head cheerleading coach Jan McKinney brought a small squad along to entertain the audience between shows.

“Our cheerleaders were great,” Naser said. “They did a lot of new cheers and brought a lot of school spirit. They were very well-received. One coach told me that we definitely had the hometown advantage.”

Collins said that the Scholastic Bowl team decided to give a portion of its $1,000 prize money to the cheerleaders as a token of thanks.

In their opening match, the Panthers rolled up 565 points in defeating Woodberry Forest (460) and Kettle Run (400), the Group AA Evergreen District champion.

Two moments turned the match in Rappahannock County’s favor. First, it answered eight consecutive questions correctly in the directed round to earn a 25-point bonus. Then, just when Woodberry Forest looked as if it would rally during its bonus round, a technical problem interrupted play for 10 minutes.

Woodberry Forest would never recover.

Hatcher said that competing in Scholastic Bowl on television is different than in the Virginia High School League matches. The clues for the questions are much shorter, so the players must be ready to hit the buzzer.

“If you think about it too long, you’re too late, he said. “You have to buzz in as soon as the question is read.”

Rappahannock County finished a disappointing fifth out of six teams in the Group A Bull Run District this season.

Saturday’s performance erases some of that distasteful ending to its season.

“This shows me that we didn’t do it in the regular season, but we were capable all the time if we focused. We were good. We’ll keep getting better. It was a great day to be from Rappahannock.”

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