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For Judge, finding answers no trivial pursuit

by TERESA BYRD
Staff Writer | May 26, 2021 7:15 AM

The winning question at this year’s individual Montana Academic State Championship, in Jeopardy-style format, was along the lines of, ”This foodstuff is common in Hawaii, due to the state’s large military presence creating a military surplus of this foodstuff.”

The answer was delivered by Aiden Judge, a Columbia Falls High School junior and member of the school’s Academic Quiz team.

It was: Spam.

Having the political, historical, or even cultural knowledge required to buzz in that monosyllabic winning answer ended up paying well for the Wildcat scholar.

The prize for claiming the individual championship is a $3,000 scholarship, which will be held in trust for Judge until he attends a post-secondary institution. Judge credits much of his skill in the competition to one attribute: an ever-inquisitive mind.

“I’m just generally curious. I read a lot and look into stuff,” said Judge. “Like, most of middle school, I would go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole— just read something, see a link to something else, click it and just keep doing that until I had a general good grasp on whatever subject I’m looking at.”

An example of a topic that at one point captured his interest is the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese history, which was “a very romanticized era of rival warlords duking it out trying to become emperor of China,” he explained.

In addition to curiosity, however, members of the Academic Quiz team, coached by Columbia Falls English teacher Jeanette Price, also deliberately practice.

The team meets every Thursday to go over an exhaustive list of preparatory questions and to occasionally set up mock competitions between teammates.

Judge says he has learned a lot from the practice sessions.

“Mostly general art things like— Who the heck is Monet? And, I’d heard the name Van Gogh before, but I learned a bit more about him and what he painted,” said Judge. “I also learned styles of painting like American Gothic, and that we have a major Art Center in Chicago that I didn’t know about till joining.”

The activity has been available at the high school since 2018, when Price became its coach her first year of teaching. The activity complements with the school’s speech and debate program, which is where Judge, a competitor in the extracurricular’s extemporaneous and informative categories, first heard of it.

When Judge became a part of the quiz team as a freshman in 2018, membership was around 10 students. But after the annual championship was canceled due to the pandemic last year, membership seems to have fallen to about half that.

“We were only able to bring five kids,” said Judge, referring to the number of Wildcats that participated in this year’s Academic State Championship held May 10-11 at the University of Montana. “But I’m hoping we can get back to around 12 people.” Judge hopes to apply the $3,000 towards earning a degree in political science from either the University of Montana or the University of Michigan.

In the meantime, Judge plans on honing his knowledge until it can be tested again at next year’s championship.