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Sudden Death, Come-from-Behind Finish: MC’s Academic Competition Boasts Thrills, First-Time Champion

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Jackson Academy survived a sudden-death semifinal match and overcame a first-round deficit in the finals to capture its first Mississippi College Academic Competition championship Jan. 19 on the Clinton campus.
JA’s intense semifinal match against Mississippi Pinebelt was decided by a single toss-up question: What process is used to separate the components of complex mixtures of chemical compounds by selective adsorption to a solid medium?
After several stress-filled seconds, Gautam Ray, JA’s captain, buzzed in with an answer: chromatography.
“My heart was pounding,” Ray’s teammate, Bailey Berry, said. “When they said the question, I had no clue what the answer was. We were standing there in complete silence. If their team throws out a guess and gets it right, we’re through.
“I’m a very competitive person, and I wanted to win badly. I looked down at my Apple watch, and my heartbeat had gotten up to 137. Gautam threw out a word I had never heard of in my entire life. The fact I could rely on my teammate to send us to the finals was an amazing experience.”
Meanwhile, the East Rankin team coasted to a semifinal victory over Presbyterian Christian, setting up the finale against JA. East Rankin jumped out to a 110-45 advantage after the first round, but JA countered with a flurry of correct answers from each of its team members to pull ahead by halftime, then staved off several East Rankin rallies for the 395-330 victory.
“(The tournament) brings out the competitive nature in academics, which takes the love of learning to another level,” Berry said.
Theresa Berman, an upper school history teacher and JA Quiz Bowl sponsor, said the school’s first win in the annual competition was especially gratifying after not having fielded a team since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has been so exciting and fun for us,” Berman said. “Our principal wanted to bring it back this year, so we asked some of our top juniors and seniors if they wanted to participate, and there was great interest. They practiced at lunch and had a lot of fun together preparing.
“The curriculum at Jackson Academy shined through in their knowledge of literature, chemistry, and math – that was their biggest preparation. These juniors and seniors work hard every day in and out of the classroom. We are so happy and proud of their accomplishment.”
More than 130 students representing 20 different public and private high schools across the state participated in the weeks-long 2022-23 Academic Competition, the 39th hosted by MC. The tournament, which began Nov 8, 2022, matches academic teams in a head-to-head, quiz-like environment in the Leland Speed Library’s television studio, using questions developed and tested for the high school level.
MC awards scholarships to the four teams who reach the semi-finals.
“Our goal is to recognize academic knowledge, to encourage learning, and to foster the spirit of competition and fair play,” said Cheli Vance, program coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education who has served as emcee of the annual tournament since 2020. “This was a very exciting tournament with great competition from the beginning. We’ve had top-notch students involved on the teams, and it’s clear the sponsors invested time and energy to prepare their students.
“These are the types of students we would love to have consider Mississippi College as their home.”
The teams of four students apiece – substitutions are allowed at certain times during match play – compete to answer difficult queries in science, mathematics, history, and the arts, such as:
What is the only number spelled with its letters in alphabetical order?
Who was the first European explorer to see the Pacific Ocean from its Eastern shore?
Who are the four U.S. presidents whose last names end in a silent E?
The answers, of course, are forty, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and Calvin Coolidge, Millard Fillmore, James Monroe, and Franklin Pierce.
Questions for the competition are reviewed and revised for the Mississippi College Academic Competition by Dr. Dean Parks, professor emeritus of chemistry at MC.
The tournament at MC has been a mainstay of high school academic competitions throughout the state for nearly four decades. The event draws young scholars to the Clinton campus, where, between competitions, they get the opportunity to tour the University, interact with faculty and staff, and learn about the benefits of obtaining a world-class Christian education right in their own backyard.
“Our group had a wonderful time this season and enjoyed spending time on the MC campus,” said Brandi Richardson, upper school head at JA. “This was an opportunity for our students to highlight their classroom knowledge in a way that’s not assessment-based or performance-based.
They get to know students from other schools, and it makes the learning aspect fun.”
Several MC students and alumni participated in the Mississippi College Academic Competition before electing to attend the Christian University.
“The best advertisement that Mississippi College has is when someone visits our campus,” Vance said. “They can experience the family atmosphere, the beautiful campus, and an event that is academically challenging, but also fun. We hope this provides a good preview of what the college learning experience can be for future students.”
While visiting MC for the competition, Richardson said her students spent a lot of time in the B.C. Rogers Student Center and walking around the picturesque campus.
“It’s a nice opportunity for our high school students to see not only the campus and how pretty it is, but also the (college) students studying,” Richardson said. “They see a lot of our former (JA) alums here. They come on campus and find old friends and make new friends.
“It’s a great opportunity to engage with college faculty and find comfort just being on a college campus.”
As a high school senior, Berry said she enjoyed getting a preview of what’s to come during her college career.
“It’s an amazing experience to be on campus, walk to the Commons, and interact with college students,” she said. “It’s great to have fellowship with people who have already graduated from my school. It’s also cool to see a glimpse into what my future holds in about 6 months.”
Academic Tourn-ament participation has grown since the lean years of the pandemic – MC was the only institution of higher education in the state to host an in-person competition in 2020 – but Vance said she would love to see more schools from across MS involved.
For more information on participating in the MC Academic Competition, email Vance at

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