The match was close, but White Plains High School emerged victorious last night against Kellenberg Memorial High School for the top slot in Cablevision's quiz show "The Challenge."
The showdown aired on MSG Varsity and the questions were varied. Which country produces the most oil? (Saudi Arabia) Which future president commanded U.S. troops during the siege of Vicksburg? (Ulysses S. Grant) What did Andy Warhol call his aluminum-foil-covered New York City apartment? (The Factory)
While both teams had a strong showing -- the final score was 360-320 -- White Plains took home the top prize: $10,000 for their school.
Theresa Chillianis, MSG Varsity's general manager, doled out the awards at the end of the competition. She said the students from White Plains were elated about their victory, but their competitors from Uniondale also made themselves proud. "The Kellenberg team showed great sportsmanship," she said. "It speaks to how impressive these kids are."
Nikolas Churik, 17, a Kellenberg graduate who was the team's captain, called the competition nerve-racking. "It was a high-intensity thing, especially because it was so close," said Churik, who plans to attend College of the Holy Cross to study Latin and Greek.
The students each went home with $500 for participating in the 14th annual competition. Both teams beat challengers from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Westchester/Lower Hudson Valley, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut for a chance to compete in the finals.
Eric Smiley, 17, said he wasn't prepared for the fanfare his school's victory brought.
"Right after the game ended, these big confetti cans went off," he said. "They shot right at us. When we walked back to Grand Central, we were carrying the big check that they give you. It was pretty surreal."
Smiley called the victory one of the highlights of his high school career.
"I love competing," said Smiley, who will be a senior next year. "If you play a sport, you might play two or three games a week. We can play 10 games in a day, and every match tests your knowledge."
Adam Jaffe, 16, one of Smiley's teammates, said he's glad they won, but that it's unnerving when people recognize him from his appearances on TV.
Unlike baseball or football, he said, his team's successes usually go unnoticed. Nobody at school could name all of the members of the quiz bowl team, Jaffe said -- and he likes it that way. He said his coach keeps a tally of winners on his classroom wall and that he would be more comfortable there.
"I would rather do really well and have it be up there on his wall than have people come up to me in the hallway," he said.
But these students have surely earned the fame. Representatives from both schools said the participants study year-round for these and other, similar competitions.
Les Roby, adviser to the winning team, said once students join his school's quiz bowl, they start looking at their classes differently.
"They think about what would make for a good question," he said. "They have that filter on all of the time."
He said competitions such as "The Challenge" help students gain both confidence and knowledge.
"You have to stand up in front of a bunch of people -- some of whom you know and some you don't -- and you have to answer a question all by yourself," he said. "I have seen some kids gain so much from that."
Brother Nigel Pratt is the adviser for the team from Kellenberg, a private school in Uniondale. He said he's proud of his students' performance and noted that the knowledge they glean from the competition helps make them more informed and better students.
John O'Brien, 17, a three-year member of Kellenberg's quiz bowl team, called the experience invaluable.
Not only has it allowed him to travel the country, but it's encouraged him to learn about topics he might not have otherwise encountered, including classical music and art history.
"I was completely happy with how we had done," said O'Brien, who will attend the University at Buffalo to study English and philosophy this fall.
"It was a great way to cap off senior year."