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Madison Central Outpaces Defending Champs to Win 2023-24 Mississippi College Academic Competition

Dr. Michael Highfield, right, MC provost and executive vice president and former Mississippi College Academic Competition participant, presents the championship plaque to the Madison Central High School team while Cheli Vance, left, program coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education and tournament emcee, watches.
Dr. Michael Highfield, right, MC provost and executive vice president and former Mississippi College Academic Competition participant, presents the championship plaque to the Madison Central High School team while Cheli Vance, left, program coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education and tournament emcee, watches.

Erudite competitors from Madison Central High School bested 16 scholarly teams from throughout the state to capture a landmark academic tournament at Mississippi College.

The Jaguars withstood a final-round challenge from defending-champion Jackson Academy to win the 40th-annual Mississippi College Academic Competition Nov. 28.

Kristy Ainsworth, an advanced placement physics teacher and coach of the Madison Central team, said the finals contained its share of anxious moments.

“It was a nail-biter,” said Ainsworth, who, as an assistant coach or coach, has been a part of three Academic Competition championships with the Jaguars. “It was touch-and-go – no lead is safe – but I was definitely happy with the outcome. Our team’s success is a great tribute to the teachers at our school. It says much about our curriculum and our instructors.

“What makes members of this team special is their vast array of knowledge combined with the fact that they don’t take anything seriously. They don’t get stressed. They are amazing – It’s been years since I’ve had a group as good as this.”

Sponsored by the Office of Continuing Education, the Mississippi College Academic Competition matches four-person teams in a quiz-like challenge using questions developed and tested for the high school level. The questions are reviewed and revised for the tournament by Dr. Dean Parks, MC professor emeritus of chemistry. Mississippi College awards scholarships to the four teams that reach the semifinals.

“Our goal is to recognize academic knowledge, to encourage learning, and to foster the spirit of competition and fair play,” said Cheli Vance, program coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education who has emceed the tournament since 2020. She said the depth of knowledge each participant shows during the weeks-long event is impressive.

“The amount of time and effort that the students put in to hone in on the specific types of questions is amazing,” she said. “There are some very obscure questions that range the gamut of history, from Genesis all the way to the current day.

“It’s a unique opportunity for them to showcase what they know from A to Z.”

To reach the finals, teams have to withstand a gauntlet of competitors, each of whom is tops in their class at their respective institutions. Jackson Academy outdistanced an emerging St. Aloysius High School squad to reach the Mississippi College Academic Competition championship for the second straight year, while Madison Central handed Presbyterian Christian its first tournament loss to make the final round.

After an opening volley of correct answers, the Jaguars established a 65-point lead over JA in the first quarter, then maintained its advantage throughout the first half. Buoyed by a flurry of successful bonus questions, the Raiders rallied to within 20 points after three frames.

Both teams traded a series of desperation misses to begin the closing stanza before Madison Central gained a foothold in the toss-up question-only round:

Identify the English scientist on whose laws classical physics was based. (Isaac Newton)

Which word designates a race over a zig-zag course and a timed Alpine race going downhill? (slalom)

Because he drew the shortest straw, which character in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tells the first tale? (the Knight)

In 146 BC, Rome not only defeated Carthage, but also asserted Roman hegemony over the Hellenistic world. Which civilization is designated by the word “Hellenistic?” (Greece)

Which European capital located on both banks of the Vltava River is called the “City of a Hundred Spires” because of its many churches? The city’s Charles Bridge, its most famous, is lined with statues of saints. (Prague)

The Jaguars wrested the coveted academic competition championship plaque away from the defending champs by a final margin of 300-210.

Dr. Michael Highfield, MC provost and executive vice president who represented Brandon High School in the competition decades ago, presented a handsome plaque to the victors.

“It’s a unique opportunity to have someone who actually participated in this very academic competition present the award to the champion team,” Vance said. “Dr. Highfield understands the strategy, the fun, and the competition involved and knows the value of getting these bright students on the Mississippi College campus.”

The tournament at MC has been a mainstay of high school academic competitions throughout the state. The event draws young scholars to the Clinton campus, where, between competitions, they get the opportunity to tour the University, interact with faculty and staff, and learn about the benefits of obtaining a world-class Christian education right in their own backyard.

“There’s value in having high school students visit our campus, where they can experience competition and engage with other students,” Vance said. “We had MC Lamda Pi Eta students, members of the National Communication Association’s honor society, meet and greet them as they came for the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final rounds. Our guests were able to speak with MC students, ask them questions about life on campus, and check out our campus eateries.

“Many of them took group tours of the campus, and some of the sponsors who are very familiar with MC toured the students themselves. It gives them a sense of familiarity and makes them feel a part of our University, even if they haven’t yet decided where they’ll make their college home.”

Ainsworth said the Madison Central students enjoyed their immersive collegiate experience.

“Many students will get to college not having set foot on a University campus and not really knowing what to expect,” she said. “It’s nice for them to network and meet college students. They like the MC campus, and it helps them get ready for college.

“Some of them might be thinking of coming back.

Vance said the Mississippi College Academic Competition could serve as a springboard to academic success for some of the participants.

“It gives them an opportunity to showcase a specialized knowledge of subjects that appeal to them,” she said. “It’s good to watch some of these students grow in confidence.

“Sometimes, they come in extremely timid – the buzzer can be intimidating – but to watch these students improve as the sponsors continue to work with them to develop their confidence and to see their performance improve – that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”

For more information about participating in the Mississippi College Academic Competition, click here or email Vance at