By Sydney Clay
Reach for the Top was Gary Robichaud’s baby.
The Three Oaks Senior High School teacher took on the group in 1995 after it had been an on-and-off club for years.
When he died in 2005, David Gallant, didn’t know what to do. The calculus teacher at the school had just lost a colleague and a close friend.
Then a student came to him.
“One of his students came to me not long after and sort of nudged and winked and said there’s nobody else to do this, and there was about 60 students signed up to be involved.”
Gallant has been running the program for the past 10 years.
“Probably the best professional decision I’ve ever made,” he said.
The Reach for the Top program at the school is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
It involves two teams of four students who meet regularly. During the in-house competitions the moderator pose questions from either the student’s course work or general knowledge questions from a national question bank.
The school has 10 teams this year, all were originally named by Robichaud; the Barons, Canucks, Crusaders, Knights, Mustangs, Paladins, Royals, Spitfires, Titans and Wizards.
“It’s a traditional listing of names that Mr. Robichaud came up with when he was the teacher advisor for Reach for the Top.
“The students come in every year, some of them have grand ideas about some brand new name that they’ve thought of, but we dampen that down and say, sorry we’re very traditional,” said Gallant.
“Like the NHL, like any other sports league, that kind of thing. There are certain names that we use and its just tradition.”
A game includes three rounds starting with snappers, questions about anything. Then it breaks up into categories. Three questions are asked on a topic, such as math or literature.
Then there are team questions. If the team buzzes in and gets the answer of the first question correct, it gets the bulk of questions. It ends with the 40-point ‘who am I’ questions where they get descriptions of famous people until the person is correctly identified.
Since 2005 the group has given a memorial award, dedicated to Robichaud, to each semester’s top team.
“As you can imagine, the students sit here and play the game with the plaque sitting right there and I think they all dream of glory and they want to have their names on there, so it kind of ramps up the competitive nature,” said Gallant.
Three Oaks is the only P.E.I. school offering this program.
“Every year when we produce a winning team, we are automatically Island champions,” said Gallant
Reach for the Top first aired on TV in 1965 when the competition aired its national finals. In 1966, it became a national TV show.
The show ran from 1966 to 1989, but the competition continues in schools across Canada.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of the national Reach for the Tops first airing. Teams from Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto played the first year it aired.
Sarah Jane Barrett, an English teacher at TOSH, joined as a teacher moderator three years ago, but her history with Reach For The Top goes back further. In 2001, when she was a student, she won most valuable player for her team.
“I loved it as a student, so I was happy to help when I came back as a teacher.”
John Smith is a Grade 12 student who has been a member of the Barons team for the past two years. After playing for fun one day in Grade 11, Smith got a team of his friends together.
“Don’t take it too seriously. It’s just for playing around with your friends, it’s not really a game that’s supposed to be like over-analyzed. It’s just something that we do for fun,” said Smith
And fun they have. Smith has even named his buzzer Trigger, after using the same one for every tournament.
The group takes the student-teacher relationship and turns it into a friendship, said Gallant.
“When you’re doing this, you’re involved in an extracurricular activity. You see a different side of them and you get to know them a little better on a one-to-one basis.”
And the friendships last. Jillian MacIntyre was a student at TOSH from 2011 to 2014. She joined Reach for the Top in her Grade 10 year and remained a member until she graduated.
“David Gallant is one of the greatest, most caring teachers within the walls of TOSH, and I’m extremely grateful for both him as an educator and as a person. He puts an incredible amount of time and effort into maintaining the Reach program at TOSH.”
The winning teams sometimes go on to the championship in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.
MacIntyre said the trip she took to Truro in Grade 12 is one of her favourite school memories.
“I thought we were intense at TOSH until I met people from all over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who had been doing drills for months in preparation.”
Her team, the Titans, has also had many memories when it comes to answering questions.
“I remember one of my teammates once lost a championship round by answering that a bee has three wings,”
The irony is the teammate is now majoring in environmental studies.
“We never stopped making fun of her for it, but we couldn’t be mad because we all have those moments.”
MacIntyre loves for Star Wars.
“My teammate, knowing I am a Star Wars enthusiast, buzzed in first one game, only to answer that Chewbacca is a Sasquatch instead of a Wookie.”
Although Mount Allison, where she studies, does not have a Reach for the Top program, the skills she learned at TOSH have helped her future with trivia, she said.
“The skills I gained at TOSH definitely help me out here and there with weekly bar trivia.”
Heather Baglole was a student at TOSH from 2007 to 2010. She wasn’t an athlete, so this was her way to shine when she was in high school, being one of the top scorers for her team.
“It brought students from different groups together in a unique way to share knowledge, and ultimately compete in a fun way. I hope it continues.”
She has found success during competitions from one famous Canadian author.
“Through all three years of playing Reach for the Top, one joke in particular remained popular game after game. Every time a question came up about a Canadian author, someone would almost certainly buzz in and say ‘Margaret Atwood.’ The best part is that they were often correct.”