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Students Are Academic Champs

Local students and coach win this year's Panasonic Academic Challenge.

Nancy Kreloff, 47, of Mt. Vernon, helped six local scholars win the Panasonic Academic Challenge (PAC) in Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday, June 21.

THE PAC is an extremely competitive tournament in which six of the brightest high school students from each state compete against each other for a chance to become part of a national academic championship team.

Some 32 states were represented in this year's competition, and players were asked questions pertaining to math, science, language arts, social studies, fine arts, foreign language and technology.

"This was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life," said Kreloff, assistant principal at West Potomac High School and coach of Virginia's academic team. "It basically came down to three teams playing smart, and we just had enough to hold on."

The following is an example of a PAC question (see bottom for answers):

Match each of the 4 mythological figures to their mates.

A.) Cupid 1.) Galatea

B.) Philemon 2.) Eurydice

C.) Pygmalion 3.) Psyche

D.) Orpheus 4.) Boucis

"EACH STATE chooses its team differently," said Kreloff. "Traditionally, Virginia has a state competition, and the team that wins [will go on to compete in Florida]. But any team can put in a bid. We held tryouts [after the state championships] and filled spots with kids who had specialties."

Virginia's eclectic team competed to earn a prestigious national title as well as individual championship rings and $2,500 scholarships.

"Samuel Lederer was our Captain," said Kreloff. "He is a prodigy. [Lederer] specializes in everything from music to literature to math. He was accepted to Harvard to study physics." Lederer, 18, of Lorton, has helped Virginia's team win the PAC for the past three years; he recently graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School with a 4.136 GPA.

"Will Sullivan was our music and language man," said Kreloff. "He's amazing; a musician, a total classicist, a world history [buff], and he's the best grammarian I've ever seen. He was our strongest language person." Sullivan, 18, of Belle Haven in Alexandria, will major in Classics at Princeton University. A two-time PAC champion, he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High with over a 4.0 GPA.

"Dan Wright is what we call 'the specialist in freakish knowledge,'" said Kreloff. "He's really amazing." Beyond "obscure facts," Wright, 18, of Centreville, has a strong background in Latin, Greek, South American Literature and History. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High after scoring a 1570 on the SATs — a perfect 800 on the verbal section and a 770 on the math section. Wright will be attending the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, this fall.

"I can see Dan majoring in something like film studies and the history of early Croatia," said Kreloff, jokingly.

"Jacob Oppenheim was our specialist in math and science." Oppenheim, 18, of Burke, will major in physics at Princeton University. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High with over a 4.0 GPA.

"ALEXANDRA LEVY was our specialist in current affairs, economics, [French] and literature," said Kreloff. Levy, 18, of Lake Barcroft in Fairfax County, will major in history and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson with a 4.05 GPA.

"Ajay Suresh was our specialist in biology and general science," said Kreloff. Suresh, 18, of Virginia Beach, graduated from Princess Anne High after scoring a 1520 on the SATs — a 790 on the verbal section and a 730 on the math section. He will be attending Columbia University this fall.

The top three teams were: Virginia, 225 points; Maryland, 215 points; and Illinois, 206 points. "It was very scary," said Kreloff. "It came down to the very end. There was a series of questions that all of a sudden Maryland was fast enough to answer. But [at the last second] they missed a question and lost 30 points; then we buzzed, answered correctly and earned 30 points."

The questions are generally four to five lines long and extremely difficult, making it a game of skill and tactic. "We were going to take second [place], but Maryland buzzed too early and lost the match." said Lederer. "It was not the best way to take the lead, but it will stick out in my memory for sure."

As students bonded, they also started enjoying themselves. At one point, Wright, who wears one green and one blue sneaker, decided to conduct an experiment that befuddled his coach and teammates. "He wanted to see if our sofa bed would close with him in it," said Kreloff. "The rest of the team had to sit on the sofa for it to close; it looked so funny — I laughed until I cried."

But the team was unable to dislodge Wright from his enclosure. "I guess you could say it [became] a physics problem that we all solved," said Kreloff before admitting: "Some coaches worry about their teams drinking. I have to worry about whether [mine] will stuff each other in couches."

AFTER THE tournament, Lederer was selected for the All-America Academic Team, a nomination only six high schools students receive each year. All-Americans receive honorary medallions as well as $1,000 scholarships.

"I was very surprised," said Lederer. "Our team was very diversified — we each had our own talents. I definitely wasn't answering all of the questions."

Though this was Kreloff's last year teaching Virginia's team, she leaves a respectable legacy in her wake. "[Kreloff] has helped [our team] win the last three championships," said Levy. "She really turned this team around. And she is a great friend with all of us."

After the tournament was over, the students gathered to write farewell notes to Kreloff expressing their best wishes. "I will always keep those with me," said Kreloff. "[This whole experience] has been really incredible, just fantastic."

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Answers: A.) corresponds with 3.); B.) with 4.); C.) with 1.); D.) with 2.)