This young Blythewood academic competes against all odds

Student athletes who win the title game in the last second of play or who make an unbelievable catch are celebrated, as well they should be. But we don’t always notice, much less celebrate, the great challenges and victories some of our community’s brightest students experience in their academic life, when they face Goliath, against all odds – and win. This week and next, The Voice will give readers a window into the incredible odds that some of these students face –  and overcome – in their quest to learn, achieve and to represent their schools and community in the academic theater.

BLYTHEWOOD – Blythewood High School sophomore Abhimanyu Sailesh is in a league of his own…literally. As a tenacious one-man team in the National History Bee & Bowl program, he regularly competes against four-person teams from schools around the country – and wins. The history wunderkind placed as runner-up in the Regionals this year and has qualified for the Nationals, to be held April 27-29 in Washington, D.C. He has also qualified for the International History Olympiad, to be held July 14-22 in Berlin, Germany, although the $2,500 – $3,000 cost to attend the international event may prevent him from going.  Because the school does not sponsor a team, Sailesh must pay his own expenses to represent his school.

Sailesh

Sailesh, 15, has participated in NHBB since he was in fifth grade, and has qualified for the Nationals every year. He qualified for the International Olympiad once before, in seventh grade, and was able to attend that year since the event was held in Virginia. His interest in the NHBB program was sparked when he joined the History Club in middle school, which encouraged preparation for the competition.

“It’s really interesting, and I like it because it’s something new every year,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people, especially at the NHBB camp you can go to, and it feels pretty good to participate.”

Sailesh said he’s proud to represent BHS, and enjoys the fast-paced challenge of competing independently against teams.

But over the past five years, as his own interest in practicing for the competition grew, other students’ interest in the program dwindled. By high school, Sailesh found himself to be the only student at BHS drawn to the long hours of exacting study that are required to succeed up through the levels of the NHBB program.

“But I like learning about this stuff,” he said. “It lines up with what I want to do in the future. I want to major in National Security, and to understand military history and how conflict can be resolved. I think [the NHBB competitions] are helping me to be well-rounded.”

Sailesh lives with his parents and younger brother in Blythewood and credits his father, Sailesh Radha, with being a great source of support and encouragement.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said of the studying. “I go through question packets from the organization and browse through Wikipedia to learn as much as I can. I study a lot over the summer and occasionally on the weekends, since the school days can get pretty hectic. I don’t have a team to practice with, so sometimes my dad will ask me questions. And I work with Mr. [Marc] Dyer, who teaches AP Human Geography at BHS.”

Sailesh, mentioning that Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy is one of his favorite books, said he likes NHBB’s strong focus on historical details and said that his experiences with the program are helping him develop a broader perspective.

“I like the idea of learning about how our past influences what we do today,” he said.


Watch for a similar story in next week’s issue about the Muller Road Middle School’s Quiz Bowl Team’s achievement – against all odds.

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