For a quick 10 points: Who is northwest Pennsylvania’s answer to Alex Trebek?
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The answer we’re looking for is Meadville resident and retired Allegheny College professor Glenn Holland, who hosts WQLN’s “Scholastic Scrimmage.”
The show pits high school trivia teams from around the state’s northwestern region against each other in a 16-team tournament with Holland as host, playing a role similar to that played by late “Jeopardy!” host Trebek for decades. Now in its second season, the 30-minute show has been airing locally this month on Erie’s PBS Channel 54 and culminates with a championship game Thursday at 5:30 p.m. followed by an all-star game featuring the best players from the 16 teams in the tournament on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Holland is a member of the WQLN board and has moved over the past decade from participating on air in pledge drives to hosting the TV station’s “Saturday Night at the Movies.” Last year, he added the quiz show to his duties.
“I guess they like my on-air presence,” he said in an interview Monday, “but also as a former professor, I guess I’ve got something like the credentials to do it — and I can pronounce most of the words, which sometimes is harder than you might expect there are questions about Chinese history and Mesoamerican history and a lot of chemicals.”
A recent broadcast featured Holland posing questions about the Filioque controversy, the 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, and the Chisos Mountains located in — for a 10-point bonus — Big Bend National Park.
But while Holland does most of the talking on the show, he said the real stars are the high school students supplying the answers.
“They’re very bright, very engaged and fun to be around, especially since I’m not teaching anymore,” said Holland, who spent 33 years teaching religious studies at Allegheny before retiring in 2020. “I’m really pleased we do it because it reminds people, first of all, that that kind of academic competition is good for everyone involved. It’s also interesting to watch and it reminds you how smart a lot of our high school students are and how much they know.”
The experience is rewarding in another way as well: The last team standing after the tournament receives a $4,000 prize, with $2,000 going to the second-place team.
Among the foursomes digging into the deepest recesses of their brains in hopes of taking the top prize are five Crawford County high schools: Cambridge Springs, Cochranton, Maplewood, Saegertown and Titusville.
While Cambridge Springs junior and team captain Ainsley Geeting has been competing in PENNCREST School District’s annual High Q competition since ninth grade, the experience of traveling to the WQLN studio for filming in November was a bit nerve wracking.
“It was totally new for us,” she said. “We definitely felt the pressure a little more.”
Geeting recalled a teammate kicking herself when she knew an answer but chose not to ring in because she was worried she would get it wrong.
“I’ve always been interested in knowing little random things,” Geeting said. “I originally joined just for fun, but it definitely helps with public speaking.”
Saegertown team captain Ezra McClymonds shared Geeting’s passion for knowledge and said much of the fun was meeting up with and competing against other students with similar interests.
The tendency to dwell in answer-related regrets was another part of the experience that McClymonds, who counts history and geography among his strongest subjects, could relate to.
“There’s definitely one question stuck in my mind that I got wrong that I will never forget,” he said. When Holland began describing the president who introduced Medicaid and the Great Society, McClymonds jumped on the buzzer early to answer Franklin Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the answer was Lyndon Johnson, as became all too clear when Holland, continuing the question after McClymonds’ wrong answer, referred to the assassination of John Kennedy that put Johnson in office.
“I’m definitely still kicking myself and cringing,” McClymonds added.
One thing that helps make up for the missed questions that lodge in the brain, of course, is winning a match or two. And while Cambridge Springs lost a nailbiter to Iroquois in the opening round, Saegertown advanced. Holland and WQLN officials were tight-lipped about the results, and the Saegertown team members and coach Stacey Hetrick were sworn to secrecy like “Jeopardy!” contestants prior to the airing of the shows on which they competed. But as of the episodes airing earlier this week, Saegertown was still alive with a chance to compete in the final airing Thursday.