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Lake Park-Audubon is filled with knowledge

Sometimes, bigger isn't necessarily better.

For five years in a row, and counting, Lake Park-Audubon High School has sent its Knowledge Bowl team to state competition. And for all five of those years, that team has also competed in the McDonald's HIgh School Challenge, an academic quiz show sponsored locally by McDonald's and KVLY-TV in Fargo. LP-A placed second in the Challenge this season.

Next up will be the state Knowledge Bowl competition, which takes place April 17-18 at Cragun's Golf Resort in Brainerd.

"We have a strong tradition going here," says Laureen Svobodny, Knowledge Bowl coach. "We're very proud of that academic strength."

Both the Knowledge Bowl and the McDonald's Challenge test the participants' skill and knowledge in a wide variety of topics, all of them within the range of what a reasonably well-rounded Minnesota high school student might be expected to know.

But what makes the crucial difference between a first and last-place team is not just who can produce the right answer, but who can hit that beep button first.

"It's a competition of speed and knowledge," Svobodny noted. And despite the fact that LP-A is a relatively small school district, the local team's ability to produce both under pressure has made it a formidable opponent for schools twice its size.

"I like knowing that, being from such a small school, we can beat all the bigger schools," said sophomore Brett Lage, who along with junior Stephen Hilfer is new to the team this year.

"Getting recognized for our (school's) academics -- I like that," Hilfer added.

"No matter how old or small our school is, it's (success in Knowledge Bowl) a testament to how good the education is," Johnson said.

"We've had many successful athletes here, but it's nice to have that balance (between academic and athletic achievement)," Svobodny agreed, adding that she feels the team's success is reflective of the overall quality of education that LP-A students receive.

"The subject matter (of the Knowledge Bowl questions) is what they pick up in their high school classes," she added. "Part of being a successful team member is your ability to retain information on a variety of topics."

But there are other factors involved as well. "It takes a lot of mental stamina to be that alert and focused for such a long time," Svobodny noted.

Knowledge Bowl competition involves one preliminary round of 60 written questions, followed by four oral rounds of 45 questions each. At the regional and state level, the number of oral rounds increases to five, Svobodny said, adding, "It's grueling."

The team's two returning seniors, Johnson and Neil Jenson, admit to having felt a bit of pressure to repeat the previous year's success.

"LP-A placed third in the state last year," Svobodny said. "That's an accomplishment in itself."

The team also lost one of its strongest members to graduation last spring. Jesse Moeller was a National Merit scholar, and is now attending college at M.I.T.

"After losing someone like that, most coaches would consider this a rebuilding year -- but this team was already built," Svobodny said. "...So far, we're having a better season this year than last year."

The LP-A team has placed at every competition in which they were entered, and actually did better in the High School Challenge than last year, when they only made it through three of five rounds. This year, they placed second.

"Our coach does a great job," Johnson said with a smile.

The Challenge competition is broadcast on KVLY once a week, September through June. "They (the LP-A team) have such a fan base here," Svobodny said.

Hilfer, who works at a convenience store, said that "a lot of people come in and say, 'I saw you on TV!' Not many kids get that experience."

"People at church come up to us and are so excited," Svobodny said. "You can really see that they take pride in the fact our school does so well.

"They're (the team) a source of pride, not just to our school, but to our community. I know I'm proud of them."

Sometimes, members of the community and faculty at LP-A are invited to test their skills against the team during practice sessions.

"It's a humbling experience for the adults to go up against them," Svobodny said.

In order to strengthen the overall abilities of their team, each member has a particular subject area in which they specialize. Plus, "they're always researching," Svobodny added.

"I like the teamwork, working together," Jenson said.

"It's fun to watch them work," Svobodny added.

"Having a coach that's passionate about Knowledge Bowl (is a plus)," Johnson added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454