By Ryan Cornell
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline High School's academic team is experiencing a season filled with firsts.
For the first time in school history, or even Warren County history, a Virginia High School League Scholastic Bowl team is headed to the regional competition. For the first time in the six years the team has been at Skyline, it has defeated John Handley and James Wood high schools. And for the first time ever, the team has a legitimate shot at competing at states.
The 10-student varsity team will be matched up against seven other high schools in the 3A East region during the regional competition at Poquoson High School on Feb. 4.
Skyline will compete against Manassas Park High School in the first round.
One reason for the sudden success is a larger team than ever before, more than quadrupling in size since last season.
Coach Heidi Trude said last year's academic team had six members. This year, the team has 27 students, enough to fill a varsity and junior varsity squad.
"It's almost like a 180-degree turnaround from what it was to this year," she said. "The interest has really grown and it kind of intimidates the other schools when they see 27 of us come in.
"To think where they were last year to where they are now, it's amazing to see us go as a powerhouse," said Trude.
Skyline's bid in the regionals competition came after defeating Warren County High School and John Champe High School and placing second in the Conference 28 tournament two weeks ago.
Four players on each team compete during three rounds: two rounds filled with questions that students buzz in and try to answer the fastest and one that lets teams work together.
The team practices by answering questions asked in competitions of previous years, covering subjects such as history, literature, science, math, sports, mythology, religion, music and pop culture.
Trude said her students came in during the school's professional days on Friday and Monday to practice their questions.
"It's pretty cool that they're this dedicated that they want to give their day off for academic team," she said.
Team captain Natalie Harpold, a senior who specializes in math and science, said she's been able to see the team grow and improve during her past four years on the team.
"I'm nervous because I really want to go to states because it's my last year and this is our first year going to regionals," she said.
Eleventh grader Jeremy Gingrich, whose specialty subjects include science, math and mythology, is enjoying his first year on the team after moving to Front Royal from Presque Isle, Maine, this past summer.
Gingrich said being on the team has helped him meet new friends during his first year at the school as well as memorizing facts for tests.
If Skyline places in the top two of the eight teams competing at regionals, it will advance to the state tournament at the College of Wiliiam and Mary in Williamsburg on Feb. 22, where it will play against the other 3A East team and top two teams in the 3A West region.
"I'm very confident with us going into regionals," said Trude. "The efforts we've been putting in, I keep telling the team they're a special group."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org