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A-TEAM: Southeast, LRHS collaborate for academic challenge (audio, video)

BRADENTON — The question was a lulu.

“Calculate the index of refraction of a substance,” said Southeast High School teacher Cathy Strate, reading aloud in Classroom No. 819, “...if the velocity of light ... ”


Hardly a nano-second after Strate had finished, somebody hit the buzzer.

Alas, their answer was wrong.

Southeast A-Teamers Philip DiMaria, Andres Romero and Maya Meredith were astonished.

So were Lakewood Ranch High A-Teamers Po-Yi Ho, Tristan L’Heureux and Daniel Nolfi.

That they even understood the question — index of refraction? — should’ve scored points.

“It just blows my mind, the things they know now,” said Strate, the A-Team adviser for Southeast, which has won the Manatee County academic team championship four of the last five years.

Combined with the Lakewood Ranch trio, they will represent the county at the 25th Commissioner’s Academic Challenge Competition April 15-17 at Disney World, vying in categories such as fine arts, math, science and technology.

Of the 64 high school participants in the county A-Team challenge this school year, DiMaria, Ho, L’Heureux, Meredith, Nolfi and Romero graded out in the top six, according to Strate.

“These are your top guns right here,” she said.

The best and brightest, indeed.

Romero, for instance, is going to MIT.

Ho, Princeton.

Meredith, Columbia on a full scholarship.

Southeast’s A-Teamers are all in the school’s International Baccalaureate program.

Lakewood Ranch’s are all in Advanced Placement classes.

“The battle of the acronyms — IB vs. AP,” joked Nolfi, who will attend New College.

The A-Teamers practice at least weekly and revel in the stimulating academic give-and-take.

“It’s cool. It’s fun,” Ho said. “You want pressure when you practice.”

Said Nolfi, “I appreciate how it gives you an arena to use all this obscure knowledge. In classes it’s just nerd talk.”


Not Philip DiMaria.

He had to leave A-Team practice early to make a game with Southeast’s baseball team. He drove in two runs in a Seminole victory.

Yet the satisfaction A-Teamers get from giving correct answers on a complex question is its own reward.

Take it from Meredith, who trained with homemade flash cards.

“I’m a perfectionist,” the Southeast senior said. “I joined A-Team and studied hard so I could make state. I just want to win.”

Each A-Teamer brings expertise in a certain subject.

For Nolfi, it’s art history and English.

For Ho and Romero, it’s math and science.

For L’Heureux, who wants to be a viola performance major at either Alabama or Florida State, it’s music.

When Strate asked which words — 1.) polyphonic, 2.) acapella, 3.) monophonic, 4.) church music — characterized Gregorian chant, the LRHS senior correctly answered 2-3-4.

“I’m interested in music history and don’t have any other application for it. So it’s fun being asked questions and being able to apply music history,” L’Heureux said.

Contemporary history is a different challenge for the A-Teamers.

Differentiating between the paleolithic and mesolithic eras seemed easier than identifying the Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines.

“Current events are toughest,” DiMaria said. “I have to work at it.”

Then Strate asked, which of four states — 1.) Florida, 2.) California, 3.) North Carolina, 4.) Texas — has the fewest electoral votes.


“Three. North Carolina,” DiMaria said.


Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at Please include a phone number for verification.

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