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Staples’ Challenge

Victor Hollenberg is a language, geography, history and politics whiz.  Naveen Murali is a math expert.  Petey Menz takes care of culture and literature.  Gabe Block and Rachel Myers nail the sciences.

Individually, they’re 5 of Staples’ brightest students.  Collectively, they make up the school’s Challenge team.

Inspirationally, you’ll love watching them compete on Cablevision’s “The Challenge.”  They’ll take on Connecticut teams 1st, then attempt to move on to the tri-state championship in the spring.

The winners earn $10,000 for their school.  Victorious team members get $500 each.

The opening round airs Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. on MSG Varsity (Cablevision Channel 14).  The Challenge repeats on News 12 Connecticut Saturday and Sunday evenings, at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.  The 1st foe is Greenwich.  Confidentiality prohibits us from reporting how badly Staples kicks Greenwich’s butt who wins.

Staples' Challenge team: Rear (from left): Petey Menz, Naveen Murali, Victor Hollenberg, Gabe Block. Front: Rachel Myers.

“Like any good team — in sports or academics — they collaborate well in the few seconds they have,” says Jim Goodrich.  He and Julia McNamee co-advise the Challenge team.

“These kids have such knowledge,” he marvels.  “This is a way for them to showcase what they know, for an objective other than grades.”

Goodrich adds:  “They’re not just bright kids who have acquired an incredible number of facts.  They’re also wired to hear a question, and instantaneously have the answer.”

The co-advisor enjoys his role.  “I get to spend time with smart kids.  They’re very normal, and a lot of fun — but they can talk about an enormous range of things.  It’s stimulating for them to be with each other, and for me to hear them talk.”

“The Challenge” is like “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” meets “GE College Bowl.”  Questions include math factoring, physics and authors; categories can be as whimsical as “California” and “People in Uniform.”

“I love trivia,” Petey — the culture/language guy — says.  “This feels just like a sports team.  It’s more competitive than my other school activities (Inklings newspaper and Junior State).  We practice a lot, and we really want to win.”

Training sessions include answering questions provided by Goodrich and McNamee; watching tapes of past episodes; even honing skills like conferring and buzzing in.

“Last year we got locked out a lot, because we buzzed in too early,” Petey explains.

Petey enjoyed the recent competition, taped at Cablevision’s New York studio.  He was not fazed that Greenwich had more fans.  “Mr. Dodig (Staples’ principal) doesn’t want to take kids out of class to watch other kids answer questions,” Petey notes.  “So we didn’t have the Superfans, like at sports events.”

Petey’s grandparents were there, however, cheering him on.

“It’s a lot of fun,” the junior says.  “It can be stressful, but you don’t feel bad if you get an answer wrong.  There’s always another one coming at you.”

Staples’ Quiz Kids

Take “GE College Bowl” and “Jeopardy“; mix in Cablevision 12 news anchor Tom Appleby, and what do you get? “The Challenge,” a low-rent but surprisingly compelling high school quiz show.

Last weekend, Staples participated in Round 2.  If you were otherwise occupied on Saturday or Sunday night, here’s what you missed.

The jacket-and-tie-clad Wreckers — Naveen Murali, Dan Fishman, Victor Hollenberg and Josh Rosen — faced off against the polo-shirt-wearing, mixed-gender squad from Stratford’s Bunnell High.

Staples' team - Cablevision News 12's "Challenge"

In the opening round, Staples correctly answered questions like “how many votes does Washington, DC have in the electoral college?” (3 — I would have said 0). They identified the author of Coming of Age in Samoa as “Margaret Read,” then quickly corrected it to Margaret Mead — but Tom disallowed the answer.  C’mon — how many high school students can even locate Samoa on a map?

It didn’t matter. After the first round, Staples led 140-120.  Go blue-and-white!

The lightning round followed — each team had 60 seconds to answer up to 10 questions.  The Bunnell Bulldogs chose the “Fantasy Character” category. One of their girls was on a roll, identifying the likes of Gandolf, Oompa-Loompas and Merlin the Wizard.

Staples drew the category “Comedic Films.” Proving that very smart kids have time for movies (too much time?), they nailed 9 of 10 — including “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Madagascar,” even “Dr. Strangelove.”  But after two rounds their lead was still just 20 points: 185-165.

The next round included questions about colleges. Naveen knew that Tuskegee is in Alabama; no one from either school could place Oral Roberts in its correct state of Oklahoma.  But Staples correctly identified the iron-rich chemical substance in red blood cells that that unites with oxygen as “hemoglobin” (yay!), and instantly calculated the length of the radius if a circle has an area of 225 square centimeters (I forget).

After three rounds it was Staples 305, Bunnell 195.

Which brings us to the final round.  The scoring system is too complicated to describe; suffice it to say Our Boys knew that Gerald Ford’s widow is named Betty (“the clinic,” one said in a stage whisper); that Robert Gates led the CIA under the first President Bush, and that the space shuttle in the 2003 disaster was called Columbia.

Just like that, it was over.  We — I mean, Staples — annihilated Bunnell to win handily, 415-220.  They advance into the next bracket, but the pressure’s on.  Everyone wants a crack at the number one public high school in the state.  The Wreckers will have to bring their A — er, A+ — game.