Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Cathedral High School juniors Akua Kumi, from left, Silas Whitaker, Jay Vaughan and Ansleigh Thibodeaux competed and won the annual Mississippi College of Science and Mathematics academic bowl.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Cathedral High School juniors Akua Kumi, from left, Silas Whitaker, Jay Vaughan and Ansleigh Thibodeaux competed and won the annual Mississippi College of Science and Mathematics academic bowl.

Cathedral outsmarts academic bowl teams

Published 12:03am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NATCHEZ — When it came down to the final question of the annual Mississippi College Science and Mathematics academic bowl, Jay Vaughan and his three Cathedral High School classmates took a 50-50 chance.

The group of Cathedral students spent Thursday in Jackson competing against students from across the state in several elimination rounds of academic trivia.

The questions ranged in subjects from physics to chemistry and everything in between and included some material the 11th graders had yet to learn in the classroom.

“A lot of the questions we were asked we didn’t know because they were based off classes we won’t take until we’re seniors,” Vaughan said. “Some of the schools we were competing against have an entire class just for going over quiz bowl questions, so it was a little intimidating.”

The students began their day competing in the first round against four other teams. The end of the round came after 40 questions were asked or 45 minutes had passed, whichever came first.

After competing neck and neck with one of the teams for the entire 45 minutes, the first round came to an end with the students not knowing exactly who would be first or second.

The top two teams advanced to the final round.

“I was trying to keep a mental tally of our points to know how many we had, but I lost it after a while,” Ansleigh Thibodeaux said. “Either way, we figured we were going to be first or second and move on.

“But it ended up being us in first place.”

That win, three of the team members said, was largely because of team member Silas Whitaker, who managed to answer questions correctly on material the students hadn’t yet learned.

“It was mainly logic of narrowing down an answer,” Whitaker said. “I guess some was luck, too.”

Still riding the high off their first-round victory, the team members were snapped back to reality when they walked into a large auditorium for the final round.

“In the first round, it was just the teams and a few other people,” team member Akua Kumi said. “But there were a lot more people in this room for the last one.

“It was all the other teams who hadn’t made it, parents, students and other people, so it was kind of intimidating.”

The team members began competing against the six other teams in the final round and soon realized it would be a trying effort.

“The questions were much harder,” Vaughan said. “It was a lot of stuff we had never seen before.”

After 39 questions, the Cathedral team, however, had kept up with the other teams and was in a position to win the tournament.

When the final question was asked, Vaughan applied the material he remembered from his biology 2 class with a bit of statistical analysis.

The final question asked the teams to which side of the RNA do ribosomes attach?

“I knew we had learned that last year, but I just couldn’t remember what the answer was, so I took what I knew about DNA and applied it to that question,” Vaughan said. “I knew DNA has two sides — 3 prime and 5 prime — so I figured RNA would have something like that.

“Either way, we had a 50-50 chance of getting it right.”

The Cathedral team was the only one to turn in an answer for the question, and that proved to be the deciding factor as the group came away victorious.

The students were brought on stage and awarded a ceremonial plaque for the achievement.

The team members said the victory was especially gratifying because of the low expectations they had going into the competition.

“We were just going into it to get some experience and hopefully have a good time,” Thibodeaux said. “But I think we were able to show that, thanks to all of our amazing teachers, we can do anything.”

Jay Vaughan is the son of Chris and Susan Vaughan.

Akua Kumi is the daughter of Kofi and Doris Kumi.

Ansleigh Thibodeaux is the daughter of Dan and Denise Thibodeaux.

Silas Whitaker is the son of Dick and Cheryl Whitaker.