Teaching Profession

N.J. English Teacher Crushes Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament

By Stacey Decker — May 13, 2016 2 min read
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Guest post by Stacey Decker

If you were watching each stage of the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament (and let’s be honest, who wasn’t?) then you may have seen this coming.

Jason Sterlacci (left of Alex Trebek in the photo above) beat out his fellow finalists on Friday to become the tournament champion, taking home the $100,000 prize.

The 6th grade English teacher from Somerset, N.J., entered the final episode of the tournament after a decisive victory in the quarter-finals and an impressive showing in the penultimate episode. But he was especially strong in the tournament finale. Sterlacci was uncatchable by the time of the Final Jeopardy clue.

The category was “20th Century Presidential Candidates” and the clue proved to be even harder than the previous episode’s question:

“He was awarded a DFC in WWII for a combat mission as pilot of the B-24 bomber he named the ‘Dakota Queen’”

It was a triple stumper. The correct response was “George McGovern.”

Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t get it—Sterlacci wrote down “Charles who fixed my tie.” (There were a handful of Charleses who ran for president in the 1900s, but it’s doubtful they’re now Jeopardy! wardrobe assistants.)

Runner-Up Kaberi Chakrabarty, an Illinois educator who teaches English-language learners, and Second Runner-Up Jill Gilbert, a 4th-year teacher at a magnet school in Iowa, didn’t seem upset with their consolation prizes: $50,000 and $25,000 respectively.

A Look at the Tournament

Sterlacci, Chakrabarty, and Gilbert were whittled down from the group of 15 teacher-contestants who travelled to Washington, D.C., to film the tournament. Take a look at how they made it to the end:

The teachers’ trip to D.C. included a visit to the White House. And among the highlights of the tournament was an appearance by former teacher—and current second lady—Jill Biden, who delivered a Final Jeopardy clue.

Here’s some good news for Jeopardy! fans: An Education Week colleague who attended the taping said Trebek told the audience he doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. (He also said he hates selfies!)

5 Things to Know About the Winner

  1. For Sterlacci, being on Jeopardy! was a dream of his since childhood.
  2. He said he’s spending some of his winnings—a $2,500 grant from tournament sponsor Farmer’s Insurance—on helping his students publish some of their creative writing.
  3. When Trebek asked if Sterlacci thought the teaching profession was viewed positively, he said, “I certainly hope that’s the case. I think people are recognizing the efforts a lot of us put in and I just hope it continues that way.”
  4. His students hold him to high expectations:

  5. And religious watchers of Jeopardy! will be seeing him again! Sterlacci is guaranteed a spot in a future Tournament of Champions.

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy.com.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.