I never claimed to be a genius, although we do have a couple of those in our family. But, I have a fairly retentive brain, especially when I was young doing homework drills with my older brother. He would help me, and I would help him.
One day in 6th grade, our teacher told us that our school, Haverling Central in Bath, NY, was going to be taking part in a State Quiz Kid Contest to be held in Hornell, NY. We all just sat there, looking around, thinking “What is he talking about?”, as it was the first time any of us had heard of such a thing.
Selections of those who would be representing our grades (picking 2 from each) would take place in two steps. Firstly, we were to think of 3 questions that would be very hard to answer from everything we were currently studying. Then, when all of those questions were pulled together, we would be given a test on paper, using those questions. All of this would be done the following day, giving us no time to prepare ahead of time. And the written test would be timed. The two students in each grade would be chosen from the results of that test – the most correct answers in the shortest time.
When the test was handed out that next morning, we had to wait until we were told to turn it over and begin. I made sure I had 3 pencils ready to go, and took several deep breaths. Wow, the questions were quick and easy (at least for me), and when I answered the last one, I looked up, and everyone else was still working hard on their tests. So, I stood up, carried my test to the teacher, gave it to him, and turned back to sit in my seat…all the while feeling my heart pounding in my ears so much that it’s all I could hear.
How exciting! So, I knew that I was the first one. I just hoped that I got the answers correct too. After a few minutes, the class began to stir, with several at a time almost running up to the teacher to try to get faster times than others.
Then, it was lunchtime, but who could eat, with so much excitement going on? We knew that all of the teachers were collecting and reviewing only those tests turned in from the first few students in their classes.
Later, I was back in the classroom, sitting quietly, once again hearing all of that pounding inside my chest. I heard the teacher call out my name first…I won! At least I had won this step…the first step. Another student, a boy, was also selected. And we were congratulated and given our written instructions of where we were to go the next week for the official Quiz Kid Contest in Hornell.
The following week went quickly, and soon we were arriving in Hornell at their high school ‘s auditorium. All I can really recall is that there were a lot of other students, the auditorium was packed full. A man told us what we were to do, and they started with the 3rd graders, going through each grade as they worked up to 8th grade.
The one thing they did differently was to allow the previous grade’s winners to also try out for advanced grades just to see if they knew those questions. It made them feel important to be included I guess. We had been given bagged lunches so we could sit still in the seats in the auditorium and watch the contest. The waiting was torture, but finally it was time for the 6th graders. I had a tough time eating, but I forced myself because I wanted to make sure my brain was going to function and override my nerves.
As soon as the moderator, a local radio DJ named Bob, started, I began focusing. The secret was to hold your hand over the buzzer button, ready to hit it as soon as you felt you knew the answer. And I knew them…ALL of them! In no time, I was the only one left standing on the stage, being congratulated and being welcomed to join the 7th graders in the next round. Which I did. And I won that one too, before I joined the 8th graders. And I won that one too. I knew all the answers, and had quick reflexes so that my hand hit that buzzer in record time after each question. And it sure is a good thing I studied with my older brother, because I had learned both 7th and 8th grade lessons!
It was about 4pm, and there I was standing on the stage, as winner of not just the 6th graders, but all the way up to 8th grade. I apparently had made a bit of history. The moderator was very nice about it all, and said that the grand prize, and that meant me, was a trip to New York City for me and my family along with an invitation to a big affair that would be held at Radio City Music Hall, to see a Rockettes’ Show and then join some ‘big-wigs’ at a dinner afterwards.
Years later, I saw the man who had been the contest moderator, this time on television. His name was Bob Crane and his show was called “Hogan’s Heroes”.
About a month later, my family and I headed to New York City. I was 12 years old, and about to begin on a journey that would change my life.