BCHS Academic Olympics team wins state championship

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, May 4, 2022
State Champs

Beaverhead County High School Academic Olympians (from left) Junior Cole Miles, Junior Henry Hawes, Senior Daniel Martin, Sophomore Sean Regan, Junior Gavin Garrison and Sophomore Zoe Graham won the State Championship competition, held at the University of Montana in Missoula April 19. It was the first time BCHS has won the honor. Courtesy photo

Area trivia buffs and random knowledge aficionados rejoiced April 19 when the Beaverhead County High School Academic Olympics team took first place in the state championship, beating out Bozeman High School.

The team of Junior Cole Miles, Junior Henry Hawes, Senior Daniel Martin, Sophomore Sean Regan, Junior Gavin Garrison and Sophomore Zoe Graham. Martin also took home the first place trophy in the individual competition, and received a $4,000 for him to use at the college of his choice.

C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls took third, and Billings Skyview took fourth place, advisor Janet Gentry said.

“We were at three tournaments this year, and we won all of them – we’re totally undefeated,” Gentry said. “This is the first time we’ve won state. That’s pretty much been dominated by double-A schools in recent years.”

Academic Olympics isn’t necessary about “book smarts,” Gentry said, and there’s a strategy to winning. When a person buzzes in is almost as important as getting answers right.

“These are very talented kids. They are some of the most impressive I’ve seen come through BCHS,” she said. “It’s not just their academics, but how they represent BCHS at competitions.”

Several team members participated in Academic Olympics in middle school. Retired Dillon Middle School teacher and Academic Olympics coach Ginny Waldorf remembers having several of this year’s winners under her tutelage, and had nothing but praise for them all.

“They’re just great kids – I was so excited when I heard they won this year,” she said. “They really help each other out, and help others learn that it’s OK to get a question wrong, they say, ‘well, we’ll get the next question right.’ There’s some really great camaraderie.”

Team members said preparing for the competitions is mostly tossing questions back and forth, and seeing what questions were asked in past competitions.

“I got lucky on a question once. It was a question on ‘Othello,’ and we were reading that in class at the time,” Martin said of the play by William Shakespeare.

Each team member has a particular area of expertise, based on their own interests and knowledge that just sticks in their heads.

Miles said his focus is generally history and “completely random stuff.”

“It’s just like an outlet for residual knowledge you just kind of pick up over time,” he said.

“You really practice all the time, when you memorize things and learn stuff in school. It’s not like a sport where you sit down for three hours after school,” Garrison said. “We’re kind of practicing all the time, whether we know it or not.”

“I think it’s easier to study for math and science because it goes with what you’re learning in high school,” Graham said.

Math? Garrison and Graham explained math problems are relatively simple, the kind a person can do on a piece of paper. Generally, team members will buzz in, do the problem on paper and then answer. It’s rare to get those right, they said, but that’s part of the strategy.

“I’m better at Academic Olympics than Jeopardy!” Martin said.

Individual group members also participate in a number of school sports and organizations, including being in the National Honors Society. Some volunteer with groups in the community as well.

“I like the competitive aspect. It’s fun to get stuff right, I gotta say,” Hawes chimed in. “I like testing myself, seeing what I know and meeting a lot of cool people.”

Regan is another who enjoys the competition: “It’s just something that’s not too stressful, and it’s fun to do.

“There’s not much at stake if you don’t do well.”

The people team members meet are one of the biggest draws, they said.

“Academic Olympics is a lot of fun, because the people in it are a lot of fun,” Martin said. “They are some of the funniest people I know. It’s really cool because we’re not super serious, but serious enough that we can do well.”

They play Trivial Pursuit at times, which adds to the fun.

“We’ve had some pretty leg endary throwdowns,” Garrison said of those “battles.”

Merle Johnston, the head of the Montana Academic State Championship nonprofit, said he was really rooting for BCHS to win this year.

“I really connected with Dan Martin. He’s a really sharp kid,” Johnston said. “He’s always been on the cusp of getting a trophy, and last year he got second place. He won $2,000 on the individual (competition)... I was watching him at other tournaments this year – I really wanted him to win first, and he did, and he won $4,000. So now he has $6,000 to start his college career.”

Johnston added he was thrilled to hear how winning teams are celebrated in Dillon – with the fire truck ride through town. He was even more thrilled to see it was for an academic win instead of an athletic one.

“Dillon has a reputation for sports. It’s well known throughout the state. They should be known for their academic team,” he said.