Adviser Adam Leff, center, and eight members of the Gould Academy World Quest Club in Bethel will travel to Chicago for the Small School National Championship Tournament this weekend. From left are Maxim Epstein, Baylen Williams, Leff, Jack Wellehan and Matthew Eggert. Other members are Peyton Hadfield, Mark Brown, Kyra Shankar and Quade Walls. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

BETHEL — The Academic World Quest Quiz team at Gould Academy qualified for the national championships a year ago, earning members a trip to … the school library due to the pandemic.

With this year’s qualifying contest held during Gould’s traditional Four Point program when each class embarks on a journey of self-discovery, the club shifted its focus and entered another national academic quiz program.

New tournament. Same result.

The Academic World Quest Quiz team is headed to Chicago this weekend to the national finals for the Small School National Championship Tournament. It’s organized by the National Academic Quiz Tournaments, which runs tournaments for high schools and colleges across the country.

Gould is the only Maine school and one of just four in New England competing in the open division for schools with enrollments under 350 students for grades, 10, 11 and 12.

“I have a general knowledge of stuff and I’m pretty good at trivia,” Jack Wellehan, a junior in his first year at Gould, said. “I thought I could excel at this.”


“I really enjoy learning about culture, literature, languages, things like that,” added Matthew Eggert, a junior from Fairfax, Virginia. “Plus, the first time I went to one of the meetings, I found it a good way to catch up on current events.”

Maxim Epstein recalls watching a high school quiz show on television while growing up in Massachusetts. It planted the seed for his participation when he arrived at Gould. A three-year member of the program, Epstein participated on the school’s quiz team two years ago on Maine Public Television.

“I had a buddy who was in World Quest last year,” Baylen Williams, a junior from Virginia, said. “This year I decided to join because I thought I’d be pretty good. I have had a lot of fun competing in the competitions. Everyone is better in a particular topic and it’s not like you’re pressured to answer certain questions. Everyone has the option to answer the question.”

Adviser Adam Leff, a 15-year member of the faculty who teaches AP government and politics and is chairman of the World Language Department, provides the team with 100 questions each week. He calls them “knowledge shots” to help prepare them for the competitions.

“They’re different pieces of information that show up repeatedly in these academic quiz competitions,” Leff said.

He credited senior Peyton Hadfield, the team captain, with organizing study sessions every Sunday evening for an hour or more.


“We work on sample questions plus the New York Times weekly quiz, which is just current events from the past week,” Epstein said. “We also learn literature from the World Affairs Council, which we read on our own.”

Gould qualified for nationals during a fall virtual competition against other New England schools.

Each match features two schools of four students each going head-to-head answering 20 toss-up questions from topics including history, geography, philosophy, religion, all the sciences, mathematics, popular culture, sports and even opera and classical music.

The team that correctly answers the toss-up question will have three bonus questions to answer for more points. Leff said a match can take 20 minutes or can last as long as 40-45 minutes. Teams get perhaps a five-minute break until their next match. Tournaments last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s a pretty grueling academic day,” Leff said. “The thing I love about it, it teaches students that success isn’t always contingent on the right answer. You’re going to answer wrong an awful lot. Failure happens. You have to put it out of your mind and continue to go. It’s wonderful because you see people supporting each other. You count on your teammates.”

Wellehan said the team usually either wins its matches with ease or has a tight match, but once in a while the team is humbled by another school.


“We don’t train every day,” Wellehan said. “We train in our own free time and once a week, but we’ve been successful to compete with those who train like an everyday sport.”

“Some teams, this is their sport,” Williams added. “This is what they do every single day for an activity. But we do fairly well. This is a club for us. We do it once a week. It’s pretty cool that we’ve been able to do that and go against people who do it every single day and train for a couple of hours every day.”

Leff said a few schools even treat this as an academic class.

Eight students and Leff will fly to Chicago on Friday morning. The other members of the team are Mark Brown, Kyra Shankar and Quade Walls. They will practice Friday evening before Saturday’s daylong competition where the 55 schools will be divided into five groups of 11 and play a 10-game round robin. Teams that win at least six games will advance into a double-elimination playoff Sunday.

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