Country Day students flex mental pecs in Academic League

The questions came rapid-fire. Sometimes, the answers came even before the question was finished being asked.

What historic event prompted Norman Mailer to write “The Naked and the Dead?”

On Thursday, Feb. 22, that question stumped both five-member junior-varsity teams from La Jolla Country Day and Point Loma high schools competing in Academic League at Country Day’s Black Box Theater on the school’s campus at 9490 Genesee Ave.

The answer to the Norman Mailer question, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was provided by moderator Tracy Vivia in the Jeopardy-style competition involving youth in the San Diego Unified School District’s GATE program for advanced students.

Academic League teams such as Country Day’s varsity squad, which includes Brendon Maisel, Sabrina Wilson, Lauron Pischel, Tamara Louie and Greg Hirshman, are queried on their depth of knowledge in history, art, math, literature and current events.

Country Day Varsity Academic League senior Hirshman looks forward to the contest each week. “It’s a way for people just to show off what they know in a friendly, competitive environment,” he said. “It’s more just for fun, a way to demonstrate your accumulation of knowledge.

It’s a great learning experience. But, most importantly, it’s just a lot of fun.”

Hirshman said it’s a difficult competition to prepare for. He concentrates on subject areas he excels in - history, math and current events - then takes it from there. Timing, however, is a key component. “The whole thing is buzzing in early,” he said. “You can know the answer, but if the other guy buzzes in early ...”

Dave Schall is one of three coaches at Country Day who guide Academic League students in three categories - novice, JV and varsity. He explained the significance the competition has taken on for pupils.

“The approach we take at Country Day is this is meant to be a diversion, kind of a pressure-releaser,” said Schall, adding the youths involved are already hardcore students. “We like to see it as more of a recreational thing.”

Country Day competes in an Academic League geographic area that includes The Bishop’s School, Cathedral and La Jolla High School.

But not all schools have the same attitude about Academic League as Country Day. “Some schools actually have classes that coach Academic League,” pointed out Schall.

Academic League is part of the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. Rhonda Zawadzki, a GATE resource teacher with a high school emphasis, is responsible for formulating the questions used during Academic League matchups. She said the contest is the intellectual equivalent of athletic competition on game day.

“It is a way to reward academic talent and showcase academic rigor and capabilities,” said Zawadzki. “The matches are in the context of athletics, where people can cheer and celebrate in a format that rewards the kids.”

Zawadzki is responsible for supplying moderators and organizing and running the Academic League matchups. “We try to match the questions to the curriculum at various grade levels,” she said. “Its purpose is more to give a venue to celebrate academic prowess.”

There are a total of 27 schools countywide that field Academic League teams. There are four divisions with six or seven schools in each division. There are citywide and countywide competitions, and after a three-month season, one of the 27 schools prevails as champion. Beyond that are opportunities for that school to compete at higher levels beyond the local area.

In 2006, La Jolla Country Day School celebrated its 80th anniversary with the opening of a new 30,000-square-foot, two-story middle-school complex housing 16 general-purpose classrooms, four science labs/classrooms and administrative offices, as well as specially designed spaces for choral, orchestra, dance and computer classes. Additionally, a new library/academic center is currently under construction, with completion anticipated the beginning of the 2007-08 school year.

La Jolla Country Day School is an independent, co-educational, non-sectarian, not-for-profit college preparatory school serving 1,038 students in Nursery through Grade 12 from throughout San Diego County. The school’s philosophy is that the demonstration of good character is of paramount importance within an academically rigourous environment. The belief is that diversity provides strength.

Within the framework of a traditional liberal arts education, La Jolla Country Day prides itself on valuing the art of questioning, the refinement of critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate effectively. In a rapidly changing world, the school believes it is necessary to understand and use information technology to reach academic objectives.

La Jolla Country Day School traces its beginnings to The Balmer School, founded in 1926 by Louise C. Balmer in a small cottage on Coast Boulevard serving four primary school children. The Balmer School expanded, eventually holding kindergarten through fifth grade classes in what formerly was John Cole’s Book Shop on Prospect Street. Nearly three decades later, Mrs. Balmer and a group of dedicated parents saw the need for an independent day school which would include Middle and Upper School classes as well. The school now known as La Jolla Country Day School received its charter in 1955 and moved to its current location in 1961.

For more information about the school or its programs, visit or call (858) 453-3440.