As a whole, educators are a deeply intelligent group. So a group of teachers in a "Jeopardy!" challenge would lead to some mighty fierce competition.
Which makes Larry Martin's win even more impressive.
The second-grade teacher at Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village has won the "Jeopardy!" 2018 Teachers Tournament. Over the past two weeks, Martin competed against 15 of the country’s sharpest educators to cinch the $100,000 grand prize and earn a spot in the next edition of "Jeopardy!" Tournament of Champions.
For Martin, this tournament was exhilarating, especially the final moments.
“For Final 'Jeopardy!', I had what's called a lockout, meaning I didn’t have to wager because my competitors couldn’t catch me, even if they bet everything and got it right,” he said. “My eyes must have been big as saucers, and truthfully, my knees felt just a little loose and weak. It was a happily, giddily surreal several minutes.”
The decades-long "Jeopardy!" devotee connects with the show on many levels.
“I like that it’s not a trivia contest. It’s a general knowledge quiz and I love the fact that the areas they ask about are so wide,” Martin said. “My knowledge is very wide, but only a couple of inches deep, and that’s good for 'Jeopardy!'”
Though Martin did take his wide knowledge to the limit, his win was far from stress-free.
“I was very bad on the buzzer in practice,” he said. “I did get better in practice but it didn’t matter how many answers I knew, if I couldn’t figure out the buzzer.”
Martin both mastered the buzzer and had all of the right answers to take home the grand prize. However, his journey to earn a spot on "Jeopardy!" might have been an even greater victory.
The teacher made his first formal application to be a contestant in 2002. During the past 14 years, he advanced in four regional auditions to the final pools from which the show’s contestants are chosen. The last was in Oklahoma City in August 2016.
“'Jeopardy!' can keep you in that final pool for 18 months before notifying you that you’re a contestant. After that Oklahoma City audition, I’d given up when I finally got the call at 17 1/2 months,” Martin said.
In addition to taking the top prize, Martin and his fellow contestants each received a $2,500 educational grant to fund classroom projects through the Farmers Insurance Thank America’s Teachers program.
Martin plans to use his $2,500 grant to grow Marvel News, a newspaper he has published with his second-grade students for 23 of his 27 years teaching.
The four-page newspaper, published 12 times a year, is an interview-focused publication with subscriptions running 10 cents per issue.
Since its launch, Marvel News and its second-grade staff have published interview stories with David Beckham, President Barack Obama and numerous Olympic athletes. Last week, 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek agreed to an interview with Martin’s young journalists for the paper’s next issue.
“The students do almost everything for Marvel News. They brainstorm story ideas, write interview questions, and create advertising. They’re really excited about the interview with Alex Trebek,” Martin said.
Martin’s next steps include strategizing for "Jeopardy!" Tournament of Champions and spending some of his prize money.
That contest strategy includes reading lots of nonfiction and playing "Jeopardy!" regularly.
He’s also made plans for at least part of the $100,000.
“Strangely enough, I haven’t spent it all,” he said. “I am planning to travel to northern Spain and I’m going to upgrade my Bianchi bicycle.”