Local NJROTC students to compete at academic ‘Brain Brawl’

What flag means “preparing to replenish at sea”?

How many Articles are there in the Constitution?

What class of ship primarily delivers supplies and personnel to locations in enemy territory?

Five North Fork high school students — Mattituck senior Ty Bugdin, Mattituck junior Joseph Stuckart, Southold sophomore Emiliann Palermo, Greenport freshman Jessica Villareal and Mattituck freshman Shannon Massey — are training to answer those questions, and others like it, in under 15 seconds.

The students, all cadets in the combined Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program at their schools, comprise an academic team that has qualified to compete in the National Academic Championship Brain Brawl in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 6.

It will mark the first time students from the North Fork program have qualified for the national event.

“This is huge,” said Major Bill Grigonis, senior instructor of the program. “It’s a chance of a lifetime for these kids.”

The Brain Brawl setup places four cadets at a table to play against four cadets from a different school. The fifth member of each team is available as a substitute. Players have to buzz in and answer questions asked by a moderator, similar to “Jeopardy,” Maj. Grigonis explained.

Teams score points for correct answers and lose points for incorrect answers, he said. For the first question, only the team member who hit the buzzer can answer. If the response is correct, that team is asked a second question, which they are allowed to discuss with each other before answering.

“Being a part of ROTC, you really have to work well with others,” Ty said.

Questions reflect the content of the ROTC curriculum, which covers current events, history, science, math and athletics, as well as SAT- and ACT-type questions.

To prepare, the cadets have pored over old exams and taken online quizzes specifically designed for Brain Brawl competitions.

“I’m excited to win,” Emiliann said. “I feel like I learn more in ROTC class because it’s more engaging.”

The five students heading to Florida were recognized as some of the most academically gifted of the nearly 300 cadets in the program. Every cadet begins taking exams in ninth grade, earning different medals and honors based on their scores.

The field is narrowed down to the top 25 students and the five competitors are chosen from that group.

“I feel like I’ve always been doing this,” said Joseph, who’s been on the academic team since his freshman year. “This class prepares us for the future. It’s a basic education we don’t get in school.”

Last month, the group competed on the Northeast regional team during an event at Mattituck High School, placing first out of 10 teams, which qualified them for the nationals.

Maj. Grigonis then reached out to the community for donations to help fund the team’s trip to Brain Brawl. Within a week, nearly $5,500 had been raised, enough to cover the students’ entry fees, hotels, meals and flights.

“The community was so generous, and we’re really thankful for that,” Maj. Grigonis said.

Photo caption: Five students from the Mattituck-Southold-Greenport Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program will compete in the National Academic Championship Brain Brawl in Florida May 6. From left: Mattituck senior Ty Bugdin, Greenport freshman Jessica Villareal, Southold sophomore Emiliann Palermo and Mattituck junior Joseph Stuckart. Not pictured: Mattituck freshman Shannon Massey. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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