James Monroe places fourth at Academic Showdown, Morgantown High School crowned as 2023 champion

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The 2023 season of the West Virginia Academic Showdown reached its climax on on Friday as an undefeated Morgantown team of Steven Tran, Prathan Bhanushah, Juliana Ferrel, and Captain Carter Herron finished the season as Academic Showdown champions.

The competition had 10 teams competing for the right to be called “champion.”

“Academics is the most important thing you can have,” Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, told competitors and spectators at the Culture Center in Charleston, as part of the day’s opening remarks. “Learning is a lifelong experience – don’t forget that.”

Described by the W.Va. Department of Education as an “academic head-to-head competition that brings West Virginia high school students from across the state together for regional matchups,” the Academic Showdown is now in its second year of active competition. The Academic Showdown is modeled after a similar program from the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area called “It’s Academic,” of which Blair was an avid fan growing up. 

The current season of the showdown began with 36 teams, competing in five separate regional events at universities across West Virginia. The top nine-teams then advanced to the double-elimination championship round in Charleston. 

“Next year is going to be twice as big,” Blair said. “Maybe we’ll be at the Civic Center.” 

Among the final competitors were 2022 champions George Washington High School, and 2022 runners-up Spring Mills High School, as well as two teams from Morgantown High School, and one each from Ripley, Wheeling Park, Winfield, Berkeley Springs, Huntington, and James Monroe high schools. 

“Good luck to every team,” Blair concluded. “Except, I am rooting for my teams from Spring Mills and Berkeley Springs.”

Round one of competition saw James Monroe defeat Winfield, the first of two Morgantown teams defeat defending champions George Washington, and Wheeling Park defeat 2022 runners-up Spring Mills High School. In round two, Morgantown’s second team bested Huntington High School, and Ripley fell to Berkeley Springs. 

James Monroe High School finished fourth at the 2023 Academic Showdown. (L-R) Concord University Mascot, Coach Ashley Mann, Elizabeth Adkins, Captain Madison McMillion, Bryceson Whitt, Cole Thomas, and Concord University President Dr. Kendra Bogges. Photo taken after regional round victory at Concord University on Feb. 18.

Morgantown team one’s third round victory over Wheeling Park moved them into a fourth round face-off with James Monroe. Morgantown took an early lead after Carter Herron accurately responded that Juul was the company which settled a 2019 lawsuit regarding targeting underage smokers in their advertising. However, James Monroe attempted to fight their way back when Madison McMillion correctly stated that Washington D.C. is the U.S. city which was granted “self rule” and three electoral votes in 1973.

After a highly competitive contest, James Monroe came up just short, setting up an all-Morgantown battle to determine which team would be the first to suffer a loss on the day. 

The consolation bracket saw George Washington High School defeat both Winfield and Berkeley Springs, While Huntington bested Spring Mill, Ripley, and Wheeling Park. 

In their elimination-showdown with Huntington, George Washington was the first to score as Patrick Ward accurately stated that the volcano known as Olympus Mons is located on the planet Mars. However, Huntington cut into the lead when Cameron Mays successfully answered that “King Kong” was the name of the 1933 film which used an 18 inch model to represent the giant gorilla. 

In the end, the defending champions proved too much for Huntington, and George Washington moved on to face the dark horse tournament-newcomers of James Monroe. Despite a strong showing throughout both brackets of competition, James Monroe ultimately fell short in that contest, positioning George Washington just two wins away from a repeat tournament victory. 

The battle of Morgantown proved fiercely competitive, although Steven Tran put Morgantown team two within five points when he correctly stated that Levi Stadium is home to the San Francisco 49ers. However, the score would get no closer, and Morgantown team two punched their ticket to face George Washington.

In a win-or-go-home matchup, the defending champions jumped out to an early lead. However, when Sawyer Rudy correctly stated that acetone is synthesized alongside phenol in the cumene process for the creation of nail polish, Morgantown cut George Washington’s lead to four. 

As the round wore on, George Washington’s advantage became seemingly insurmountable. And when the “buzzer round” of rapid-fire questions was through, George Washington needed only a victory over the other half of Morgantown’s dynamic duo to claim victory for a second consecutive year. 

Morgantown High School’s “Team One” were crowned Grand Champion of the 2023 Academic Showdown. (L-R) Juliana Ferrel, Steven Tran, Captain Carter Herron, and Prathan Bhanushah.

Steven Tran’s correct identification of Ernest Hemingway as the author of “A Moveable Feast,” and Carter Herron’s accurate identification of baleen as the filter feeding system made of keratin found in the mouths of whales kept the first Morgantown squad ahead by a single point. However, when George Washington’s Patrick Ward identified phosphorus as an element whose allotropes feature a similar composition to graphene, the score was tied at seven. 

In the end, the undefeated Morgantown team of Steven Tran, Prathan Bhanushah, Juliana Ferrel, and Captain Carter Herron proved too much for George Washington, and finished their season as Academic Showdown champions. Sen. President Blair presented each team member with a medal, a certificate, and a check for $2,500.

As runners-up, the George Washington High School team members each received $2,000. Players on the third-place Morgantown team two each received $1,250, while members of the fourth place team from James Monroe High School received $1,000. 

For more information about the West Virginia Academic Showdown, including how to enter a team for competition, visit the W.Va. Department of Education’s website at wvde.us

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