CHARLESTON — “Dream big, ladies and gentleman!”
That’s what West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair told students, family members, and educators who gathered in Charleston on March 25 for the state’s inaugural Academic Showdown Championship Bracket — a general-trivia event described by the W.Va. Department of Education as a “head-to-head competition between West Virginia high school teams.”
In the finals, Kanawha County’s George Washington High School and Berkeley County’s Spring Mills High School collided for the distinction of being called “Grand Champion,” with George Washington High School earning the crown.
For Sen. Blair, the championship competition was the culmination of a 15-year-long effort to establish this type of program in West Virginia, and he credits WV Chancellor for Higher Education Sarah Tucker and State Superintendent Clayton Burch for finally making it a reality. However, the Academic Showdown goes beyond highlighting the knowledge possessed by the state’s talented students. The competition itself presents a unique educational opportunity.
According to Sen. Blair, the Academic Showdown is modeled after a similar program in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. called “Its Academic.”
“This is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time,” Blair said after the event. ‘Its Academic’ has been around since I was a child. It showcases the high schools, and they compete academically. The cheerleaders and the bands come in and cheer these teams on like it’s a football or basketball game. It’s amazing, and the beginning of that took place today in West Virginia.”
“This was his (Sen. Blair’s) brainchild,” Tucker said, while speaking with members of the media at the championships. “He said ‘I want to celebrate students that are academically talented the same way that we celebrate athletes. I want people to be excited about being smart.’”
Both Tucker and Burch were immediately receptive to Blair’s request. According to Tucker, she said to herself, “We will move Heaven and Earth to make that happen, because that is a wonderful request.”
“The Day of Champions” was held at the Capitol Complex in Charleston, and enthusiastically moderated by WV Curator of Art and History Randall Reid-Smith. After an opening performance by the Greenbrier East marching band and team introductions, the competition got underway.
Each team that reached the quarterfinals of the Academic Showdown received $3,000. Teams that made it to the semifinals were awarded $4,000. As runners-up, Sen. Blair presented the team from Spring Mills High School with a check for $6,000. And as Grand Champions of the 2022 West Virginia Academic Showdown, George Washington High School was awarded $10,000. A ceremony, complete with trophy-presentation will take place at George Washington High School later this year.