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The West Fargo High school team answers the question that ultimately won them the game with four seconds left on the clock. The question: "How many hydrogen bonds hold a CG base pair together in DNA?" The answer was 3. Ronald McDonald is pictured presenting the check to team members: Benjamin Larson-Pearson, Maxwell Pergande, Andi Meyer, and Brandon Duenow.

Students savor High School Challenge victory

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News Fargo,North Dakota 58102
West Fargo Pioneer
Students savor High School Challenge victory
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

After an exciting last round game, the West Fargo team brought home the championship trophy as victors in the McDonalds High School Challenge, a show promoted by KXJB/KVLY, with news anchor Mike Morken serving as host.


The competition matches aired at 6:30 on Saturdays on Channel 4 throughout early spring and summer with the championship game featured on June 30.

Winning team members included: Brandon Duenow, a junior this fall, Maxwell Pergande and Benjamin Larson-Pearson, seniors this fall, and Andi Meyer, who graduated last spring.

According to Sean Kelly, operations manager for KVYY-KXJB TV, "This long-running, weekly program provides the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the academic achievements of local students. It certainly is an exciting one and we truly love having this show on our air each week during the school year."

Each season of "HSC" consists of 32 teams competing in a single elimination tournament with the format for each contest the same:

Round One consists of the first team choosing from one of three categories.  They are then given 60 seconds to answer up to 10 questions about that category. Each correct answer is worth 10 points. The second team then chooses from one of the two remaining categories, with the same time limit and points applying.

Round Two is a toss-up round. The host reads questions covering random topics with no categories and the teams try to be the first to buzz in and answer the question. If the first team to buzz in gets the answer wrong, the other team is a given an opportunity to answer. Correct answers in this round are worth 15 points.

Round Three begins with the team in the lead receiving two minutes to answer as many questions as they can. Then, the trailing team receives two minutes to try and make up the gap by answering as many questions as they can - no categories, just a potpourri of questions.  Prior to the round beginning, the teams get to choose from 15 point or 30 point questions with the 30 pointers obviously being more difficult.

Once the game ends, the team with the most points advances to the next round.

The matchups this year were: Round One: West Fargo vs. Win-E-Mac; Round Two: West Fargo vs. Detroit Lakes; Quarterfinals: Griggs County Central vs. West Fargo;  Semifinals: Grand Forks Central vs. West Fargo; and Championship: Shanley vs. West Fargo

In the final round, the 30 point questions became very important to the West Fargo team. "Very rarely does a team choose to take 30 point questions in that third round, as they tend to be very, very difficult," Kelly stated. "Most teams hope to make up deficits by simply answering more of the 15 pointers."

This year, in the semifinals, West Fargo trailed Grand Forks Central by a score of 245 to 190 entering the third round.  In the last round, GFC answered 9 of the 15 point questions correctly to end up with 380 points.  West Fargo had opted for those more difficult 30 point questions and answered 12 of them correctly.  That made the final score West Fargo 550 and Grand Forks Central 380 in what Kelly described as "one of the most impressive HSC final rounds ever."

In the championship game, West Fargo trailed Fargo Shanley by a score of 230-205 after two rounds. Both teams ended up taking the 30 point questions which is almost unheard of," Kelly added. Shanley got 8 correct in the last round and West Fargo got 9 right to win by a final score of 475-470.

The championship game ended with Ronald McDonald presenting a trophy and a $2,000 check to West Fargo.

Sean Bourke served as coach for the West Fargo team, a duty he and fellow teacher Aaron Knodel shared four years ago up to the present, when budget restraints allowed for only one coach. Since Knodel already had several other irons in the fire, he bowed out but was kept in the loop as to what was going on and may be back coaching next year.

The first year the team "was one and done" meaning one match and they were defeated, but Bourke noted " it was a good learning experience and each year we learned a bit more and now know what it takes to win."

Team members were selected based on answers to a 50-point test administered by Bourke that encompassed a variety of questions very similar to what were asked on the High School Challenge.

Pergande said students could take it voluntarily, as was his case, but one of the teachers provided it to the entire class.

Once the team was selected, they devoted a few days each week to going over trivia questions and reviewing the matches of other teams, as well as personally studying topics they specialized in.

The tapings started in October and finished in February so the team was together for almost two months before playing Win-E-Mac in December.

Boruke said "The most difficult task was finding times that worked for everyone, so that we could prepare. We mostly met after school and on Sunday nights. At our study/prep sessions we first figured out areas of specialties for each student, and this often required that you did your best to master three or more areas. For example one person may be responsible for chemistry, English and classical music...this is quite a daunting task, but the students were great about helped that they picked their areas of expertise, so it was something they were interested in.

"Each week we would watch the previous rounds contest and I would assume the role of Mike Morken, making sure the students didn't watch the game so that we could approach it as though it were the real thing - we had buzzers and everything. When we taped, I was much more nervous than the players, except for maybe the first match. We had seen most of the matches on TV and knew the schedule and were pretty sure that if we kept winning that we would see Grand Forks Central and Shanley in the later rounds. Those two teams seemed to be quite strong after watching them. It was awesome to win the tournament, and to win it by the smallest possible margin made it even more exciting, I was super excited for the students and all the work they put in. Three of those members, Maxwell, Ben and Brandon can all return next year, so I do not even have to have tryouts if we don't want to, but we will of course to see if there are some brainiacs out there."

Pergande said he totally enjoyed the experience and would welcome a repeat appearance. He too savored the victory, and speaking on behalf of the team summed up the emotion. "Due to the match being incredibly close, the victory was tentative at best until the final announcement, and we frantically tried to calculate scores while we waited for the verdict, which was certainly nerve-wracking. Once all was decided, I was extremely excited and proud of my teammates, as well as having felt quite a bit of admiration for Shanley in providing such a close game. Aside from the head rush of success, I was also extremely appreciative of Mr. Bourke for devoting so much time and effort in helping us reach our full potential; especially due to the close final score, I can confidently say that we couldn't have done it without him.

"My teammates were a group of incredibly bright and talented individuals who all put a personal investment into our procession, and they certainly deserve the recognition for their hard work, as do our coaches and parents. I also am excited by the prospect of shedding more light on High School Challenge in general, which I look forward to competing in next year. I had a lot of fun."

Pergande explained that the $2,000 cash reward was split evenly between the four team members, with the school holding the money until they graduate, at which time the students will receive the full amount. As a graduating senior, Andi already received her part of the win.