MANATEE -- Students from three Manatee County high schools shone Tuesday night as the inaugural Manatee Academic Challenge pitted the knowledge of two high school teams against each other, while another group of students worked behind the scenes to broadcast the game show live across the county.
Three students each from Saint Stephen's Episcopal School and Lakewood Ranch High School competed in three general knowledge
trivia rounds delivered at breakneck speed by Southeast High School teacher Randy Funderburke. After three rounds, MaryAnn Placheril, Ethan Leuchter and Joe Class emerged victorious for Saint Stephen's, besting Melissa Ackaway, Adam Caldwell and Julia La Rosa with a score of 157 to 121.
The game changer for the team, Leuchter said, was a new strategy for the final round, where each question was worth three points.
"We knew we needed to anticipate the questions better," Leuchter said.
That was also the downfall for Lakewood Ranch, Ackaway said.
"They were just answering faster," she said after the final round ended.
This new program was the brainchild of Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy and SETV director Mike Sanders. SETV is a student-run television studio at Southeast High School and Sanders told Kennedy he was always looking for new programming for his students to work on. The first few games came together slowly, with breaks for SETV students to fix glitches, but Tuesday night went live on MSTV, the district's television station, without a hitch.
The Manatee Academic Challenge is modeled off the Commissioner's Academic Challenge run by the state, an annual competition to highlight the best and brightest academically. Hoping to put a fun, new twist on that type of competition, Kennedy invited the six traditional high schools and Saint Stephen's to get involved with the new program this year, which is run like a game show.
"This is a little something extra for them," Kennedy said.
The Manatee Academic Challenge is run separately from the A-Team competition in the state and has no bearing on which students and teams head to the state challenge, although it's all the same students. Throughout the academic year, the students played against one other, bracket style, leading to the final game Tuesday, which the students at SETV broadcast live.
The live broadcast was an amazing achievement for the students and something the team of about one dozen students should be proud of, Sanders told his team after the event.
"You have just pulled off something that is very unique and rare," he said. "You impressed a lot of people and for us, it was just business as usual."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.