-Students compete in academic showdown

If you don’t like cliffhangers in your favorite television shows, you might not love this story, but you should. The Lumpkin County High School Academic Team sent a team of four, a couple coaches, and a small entourage of fans to Atlanta last month to compete against Griffin High School on the WSB television show High-Q. The show features a high-speed, academic quiz competition pitting two schools against one another, with the winner moving on and the loser going home. 

The LC Academic Team’s performance on High-Q won’t air until Sunday, December 2 on WSB-TV. And because nobody truly enjoys spoiler alerts, readers should tune in at 1 p.m. that day (Channel 2 on most Lumpkin County television systems) to find out how the Indians fared. 

High Q only selects 32 teams per season to compete in the tournament, and Lumpkin County was one of the lucky schools to be chosen. Once Round 1 is complete, the winners make up the so-called Sweet 16. The winners of Round 2 advance to the Elite 8, then those winners go to the Final 4, and then the grand finale will be taped on May 11, when the grand champion will be crowned.

Team members Gabriela Leon, a junior, Carder ‘Cade’ Runyon, the senior team captain, senior Casey Warren, and junior Jonathon Thomas were joined by head coach Aaron Hopper, unofficial assistant coach Johnathan Mullins, and six additional team members and spectators for their trip to Atlanta last month. And a great time was had by all. 

Team Captain Runyon told The Nugget that team chemistry is very important to the success of the squad, as well as how they’re arranged on the panel. 

“I rearranged the team to our liking after the producer originally had Gabby next to me, and the whole team out of our normal order,” he said. “I always have Casey as my right-hand man, so I took charge at the last minute and rearranged our order to what we’re comfortable with. Casey and I have always been together and I’m just more comfortable with him by my side.”

Once the team was properly situated and the competition began, the pressure of being on television affected each team member differently.

“My family always gives me a hard time about how dirty my glasses are, and I finally had a reason to clean them because of the glare from the lights,” said Warren. 

Meanwhile, Thomas found himself out of his element, even though he remained calm on the outside.

“I didn’t answer many questions,” he said. “Mentally and physically, I wasn’t freaking out, but in reality, I was like a deer in headlights up there. I just kind of froze up.”

Hopper, as usual, was really nervous and everyone involved agreed that this competition was more pressure packed and nerve wracking than any of the tournaments they’d competed in previously.

“They’re like my kids, so I’m a nervous wreck during any match,” he told The Nugget. “But the fact this was on TV made me even more nervous and anxious than normal.” Leon added that she was extremely nervous going into the competition, but calmed down and found some enjoyment in watching her coach “freak out.” 

Terms like ‘fiery,’ ‘moody’ and ‘eccentric’ we’re laughingly thrown around by the team in regards to Leon, and she agreed that her mood plays a big role in how the team performs on any given day, whether it be at practice or a competition.

“If Gabby’s in a bad mood it can affect the whole team,” said Runyon with a laugh. “But if she’s in a great mood and having a good day, she makes the whole team really hum. It all depends on what kind of boy trouble or success she’s having on any given day.” Fortunately for the Indians, Gabby was having a good day.

While the only team to win anything in the competition is the overall champion, who receives scholarship money, the Indians Academic Team is very competitive, and wants to win every time they compete, whether the prize is a water bottle, a t-shirt, or just a ‘congratulations.’ 

The show’s producer gave the Indians and their entourage some props after the competition was over, saying “Y’all provided the best audience we’ve had in ages.” 

And while there were only about 25 people in the audience, the crowd was dominated by Indians fans and family. 

“It sounded like 100 people were screaming and cheering any time we did well,” Hopper said. 

While the Academic Team consists of many students, Hopper went with his “Dream Team” in Round 1.

 “They work really well together and it’s just a great team. I’m not changing it up. This is the Dream Team,” he said. “If they’re on their game they can beat any team in Georgia, including the big private schools in Atlanta who have a lot more resources, time and money to dedicate to practice and preparation.”

Principal Billy Kirk wasn’t able to join the team in Atlanta, but plans to if they win in Round 1.

“They’re athletes just like any sports team that we have except that they compete with their minds,” he said. “Mr. Hopper and his team do a fantastic job and I’m a huge supporter of what they do. And the fact that they do so well goes along with the fact that we’re the No. 1 school in North Georgia in ACT and SAT scores, and they’re just really bright kids.”

If the Indians do actually pull off a first-round victory and keep advancing, Coach Hopper may be forced to do something he really doesn’t want to do. 

“If we ever win the whole thing, I’ll do anything they ask me to, within reason, except shave my head,” he said.

 But when pressed, Hopper even suggested that a head shaving might be in order. 

“Heck, I might end up ripping all my hair out during the competition anyway if we ever get that far,” he joked. 

Either way, the team promises viewers will be entertained. And if you’re lucky, you might even get to see Hopper pacing, sweating, and pulling his hair out. And when that happens, Gabby Leon can’t get enough of it. 

“I don’t care when he’s nervous,” she said. “I think it’s highly entertaining to watch him freak out.”

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