SALEM, N.H. — Nick Fossman was in elementary school when he first watched “Granite State Challenge,” a student quiz show now in its 30th season.
He became hooked.
“Whenever it was on TV, I would just watch,” the 18-year-old said.
Fossman, now a Salem High School senior, never dreamed he would ever be on the show, testing his wits against other top students in the state.
But Fossman organized the school’s four-member team at the last minute. He drafted three friends and persuaded English teacher Lindsay Ventola to serve as their adviser.
Time was running out. Fossman and teammates Arch Patel, Charlie Peters and Allison Lewis didn’t have much time to study for the qualifying test at Plymouth State University in November.
“We said, ‘Let’s just wing it,”’ Fossman said.
So they did.
The Salem High team went on to finish 10th among 52 teams in New Hampshire, with the top 16 qualifying for the show.
“We didn’t expect to make it to the top 16 teams,” said Patel, 17. “We just wanted to go and see how we would do.”
Viewers across the state will get a chance to see them battle it out against Dover High School when the half-hour episode airs March 15 on New Hampshire Public Television. The show starts at 6 p.m.
The two teams will face off in a question-and-answer format, racking up points as they provide the correct responses. Students are asked to answer questions on a variety of topics — everything from math and science to sports and pop culture.
A team from Pinkerton Academy in Derry also qualified and will compete March 8 against Hanover High School. The eight-week TV series began Feb. 8 and continues through March 29, with the top team going up this spring against the winner of WGBH’s “ High School Quiz Show” in Massachusetts.
The teams and their advisers are not allowed to reveal how they fared in the competition. People will have to watch to find out.
“We are sworn to secrecy,” Ventola said.
Ventola, 24, was pleased to serve as the team’s adviser, but she said they would have done well even without her help.
“They are definitely a really bright, motivated group of kids,” Ventola said.
What’s ironic is that only a year ago, Ventola — a 2007 Salem High graduate — taught at Dover High School. She’s happy to be back at her alma mater.
This is the first team Salem High has had in several years after former adviser and teacher John Sytek retired.
Superintendent Michael Delahanty praised Ventola for stepping up to lead the team. Salem High won the competition in 2002, he said.
“I’m hoping we can keep it going,” Delahanty said.
Although she is the only woman on the team, Lewis, 18, said she enjoyed competing with her male comrades.
“It was fun,” she said. “It’s not any different because we are all friends.”
Fossman, Patel and Lewis have known each other since they were youngsters at Haigh School. They met Peters, who went to Soule School, in middle school.
After committing to the competition, the students found themselves hanging out at Barnes & Noble to study for the show. They studied whatever they thought would help them, including “New Hampshire firsts.”
Each episode features at least three or four questions about New Hampshire, according to NHPTV education manager Susan Adams.
But the team was stumped when asked if they knew the state’s first governor — or “president” as it was called in the 18th century. The answer was Meshech Weare.
“We realized we had lived in New Hampshire all our lives and we didn’t know the answer,” Patel said.
At one point, they had to answer 10 questions on a related topic in only 60 seconds. That topic was hockey.
Fortunately, Fossman was able to quickly reel off the answers to questions about Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, racking up crucial points for the team.
“It was a key to have kids who knew a lot of different things,” Patel said.
While Adams said contestants on the show, first hosted by Tom Bergeron in 1984, tend to be extremely intelligent, the key is be knowledgeable in many subjects.
“We don’t necessarily want the kid who only knows about math,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how bright and well-rounded these kids are.”
Even if they don’t win the competition and the $1,000 prize, these students have bright futures.
“It didn’t matter if we didn’t make it all the way,” Fossman said. “We just had a lot of fun.”
Patel and Lewis plan to study engineering in college while Peters wants to major in computer science and Fossman in communications.
“Each will go far in life,” Ventola said. “They are the type of kids who inspire you to teach.”