People are taking notice of academics in the CNE athletic department

By Dick Maloney

CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (April 13, 2020) – Most high school athletic squads practice and prepare outside of normal school hours, but for one, normal school hours are the practice and preparation.

Members of Clermont Northeastern’s academic quiz team pose in a “Friends”-like group photo in the school’s library. (Provided) 

Academic quiz team members compete in quiet libraries or media centers, with maybe a few friends and family members watching. Their successes, though, are noticed. In the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference, as well as many other area high school leagues, academic team records and standings count toward all-sports trophies. The programs are considered part of the athletic department.

 Is it a sport? If strategy, skill and competitiveness define a sport, academic quiz is definitely a sport – and a low-maintenance sport at that. Clermont Northeastern academic quiz coach Melissa Hardy just completed her 12th season with the Rockets, who have become the SBAAC’s dominant team with eight consecutive league championships. She said her program is on par with any other Rocket program.

“We are a part of the athletic department,” she said.  “The kids earn varsity letters and MVP awards just like any other sport. We do the pay-to-play. We don’t use the weight room. We don’t have to fight for gym space.  As far as funding things I’ve taken these kids on trips and the school has participated in the expenses and honestly, I don’t think they’ve ever said no to anything I’ve asked for.”


CNE has not been content to rule the SBAAC. Hardy also takes her team to preseason and postseason non-league events. The Rockets qualified for the Ohio Academic Conference regional competition, which was scheduled for later this month before being canceled. Small-school state and national tournaments scheduled for this spring have also been canceled.

The team’s final competition was a Feb. 29 event in Copley, where it placed third in the Gold Division (all teams that had qualified for the regionals) by winning five of seven matches.

 In the fall, before the winter high school season, CNE competed in the Miami Valley Kickoff, where it won six of 10 matches, and the Rowdy Raiders tournament at Northmont, where it went 5-5.

Clermont Northeastern High School academic quiz team coach Melissa Hardy with players Stone McDowell, left, and Josh Smith. (Photo by Dick Maloney.)

Senior Josh Smith was the SBAAC National Division Player of the Year and Hardy was Coach of the Year, both repeating their 2018-2019 accolades. Smith is a four-year varsity team member, and said paying attention in class definitely helps him on academic team.

“I’m in sociology, which helps with the sociologists and everything, because we just got done going over, (the teacher) said something about ‘Protestantism and Capitalism’ was a book, and I’m like ‘I know this.,” Smith said. “We just did this.”

Watching TV can also come in handy.

“‘Jeopardy’ is definitely a big contributing factor, with all of the different categories and stuff they have, certain literature, certain history, certain arts and all different books,” said Smith. 

Junior Stone McDowell said players can also learn from their misses in competition.

“Making sure you get everything down that you haven’t gotten down before. If like you’ve missed something, it’s going to come up again, so you’ve got to get that stuff down,” said McDowell. “Like he said paying attention in class is always good, because there’s always something from my classes that’s going to come up. I need this not only for the class itself obviously, but the sport itself is always something I need.” 


Hardy said she likes academic team because it appeals to her “sense of fairness.”

“There’s so many things that I like about it,” Hardy said. “I like that kids always improve. If you practice and if you study, you’re absolutely going to improve. It’s not like some sports where your body can change or things can happen, you can get injured or something can get in the way of improving. In this, if you put in the work, you will improve.”

“I also just think it’s fun to know things. I like seeing kids learn things and think it’s cool just to know things. They’ll come to me after class and say ‘Miss Hardy, what we did yesterday on quiz team we just starting doing in my government class and I knew all of the answers because of quiz team and it was really fun to know all this stuff,’ or if I bring up something in quiz team that they just learned in science, they can be like, ‘Oh, I know about this,” explained Hardy. “I can help these kids that don’t understand.’ So it’s just nice to see the kids excited about knowledge.”

Joshua Eck, who ranks academic quiz teams, had CNE as the No. 1 public small-school team in the state after the Copley tournament. Hardy is disappointed the Rockets didn’t have further chances to live up to that ranking.

 “My team was really coming into its own, competed extremely cohesively, and was poised to make a deep run in the championship season before the coronavirus cancellations began,” she said. “I am having a hard time letting go of the season, so the kids and I are still (virtually) getting together to practice on Mondays and Fridays. It is fun, but the disappointment over the abrupt ending creeps into our time together, of course.”

CNE won the SBAAC National Division this season with a 12-0 record. The Rockets were also 12-0 in league play in 2018-2019 and haven’t lost a league match since January 2018.

How it works

Academic competitions are conducted over four rounds. The first round includes questions in the subjects of American literature, mathematics, world history, fine arts and life science. Second-round categories include English/world literature, U.S. government, physical science, world geography and U.S. history. The moderator asks a team question, bonus question and toss-up question in each category.

The third category is the alphabet round. Each team is given the same list of 20 questions, and four minutes to write their answers. All answers begin with the same letter of the alphabet.

The final round is a lightning round, where the first team to buzz in gets to answer.

CNE team members

Seniors – Josh Smith, Cecilia Harvey, Savannah Grenzer and Madison Sparks.

Juniors – Stone McDowell and Tyler McDonald.

Sophomores – Terri Schuler and Livv Amann.

Freshmen – Ben Harvey and Charlie Frey.

SBAAC All-Stars

Coach of the Year – Missy Hardy.

Player of the Year – Josh Smith.

First team – Stone McDowell, Josh Smith.

Second team – Cecilia Harvey.

Honorable mention – Savannah Grenzer.

Click here to find full match results and more on CNE Schools

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