By Elizabeth LaFond Coppez ’03, M’07
On October 26, 1961, the first-ever As Schools Match Wits quiz show was broadcast on television throughout Western Massachusetts. Fifty-eight years later, Westfield State University continues its integral commitment to this unique, empowering, local program.
According to Elizabeth Preston, Ph.D., professor of Communication, As Schools Match Wits was created by Len Collamore ’56. He was teaching at Van Sickle Middle School in Springfield at the time and used the quiz format with his students. “He took the idea to WWLP-TV22, and today it’s the second-longest-running high school quiz show in the country,” she says.
Collamore wrote the questions and served as competition judge for the first 20 years of the show. Phil Shepardson, a University English professor, hosted the show for 30 years. Today’s host is local television personality and broadcast journalist Beth Ward.
In 2006, WWLP-TV22 stopped running As Schools Match Wits, but Dr. Preston and colleague Mark St. Jean, coordinator of video production and TV operations and an adjunct faculty member, met with WGBY-Springfield to discuss a partnership. “We agreed to produce the show in the Ely television studio, and WGBY agreed to broadcast it and provide production assistance if necessary,” St. Jean says. After securing rights from WWLP to produce the show, Westfield State and WGBY recorded and broadcasted 31 shows between January and May 2007.
“The program is a public celebration of learning and offers high school students the rare opportunity to participate in an academic, rather than physical, competition,” Dr. Preston says. “Our wonderful partnership with WGBY has also meant that our students have the opportunity to crew a broadcast television program, which is a valuable learning experience.”
The production of As Schools Match Wits requires many people, from camera operators on the studio floor to timing, scorekeeping, and on-air audio and video operators in the studio control room. The production team includes current University students and alumni, including Eric Jones ’09 and Alex Simisky ’10.
Jenna DeLisi ’21 says being a member of the As Schools Match Wits show is a key reason she’s attending Westfield State. “This is one of the best communities and learning situations I have ever been in,” she says. “I work with outstanding people and learn so much outside the classroom setting.”
Lauren Christian ’20 says working on the show takes her outside her comfort zone and gives her hands-on training on brand-new equipment.
The show has six question categories: arts and entertainment, literature, math and science, general knowledge, social studies, and world events. The questions are based on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education curriculum standards.
Financial support from the Westfield State Foundation and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) has been essential to keeping the program on air. Occasionally, teachers in the association are featured on the show, posing questions via video. “It’s the perfect fit for the MTA. It’s a way for them to support public school teachers and higher education and get their message to viewers,”
Dr. Preston says. Any public or private high school from Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Vermont can enter to compete in the show. “Students relish the opportunity to show off their academic skills,” St. Jean says. “And they get to see Westfield State students, who are not much older than they are, play vital roles in a television broadcast team.”