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South Florida teachers compete for spot on ‘Jeopardy!’

In the classroom, Drew Joanides is the one to hand out tests, call on students when they raise their hands and answer their questions. With the voice of a radio announcer, the Miami Sunset Senior High School teacher speaks to his students with ease about his favorite topic: American history.

He was one of 69 Miami-Dade and Broward educators who tried out Sunday afternoon for the next Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament. This time, the teachers were the ones being tested across a spectrum of categories, all for a chance to be a contestant on the popular television game show.

The show’s producers held second-round auditions at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood after the competition opened Saturday at an education expo at the Aventura Mall.

Sunday, the teachers gave questions to the answer-clues in categories from Historic Military Therapy Sessions to Cable TV Personalities.

At least one South Florida educator will compete on national television this fall in Los Angeles against 14 other kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers from around the country. One teacher will win the grand prize of $100,000. Charles Temple, a high school English teacher from Ocracoke, N.C., was the winner in 2011, the first season that the teachers’ tournament was held.

Twelve years after Joanides tried out for the regular version of Jeopardy!, he made the final round of auditions of the teachers tournament. He moved forward after taking a 10-question quiz Saturday that qualified him for Sunday’s tryouts. Out of 400 who took the first test, 14 potential contestants were left at the end of the second day.

Although participants won’t know for weeks whether they made the show, they were all smiles as they walked out of the faux tournament.

While it was teachers who were being tested Sunday,

Joanides, who teaches seniors, said too many tests can desensitize students to meaningful learning.

“I want to instill in them a love for learning because I have it, too,” Joanides said. “But it’s hard to tell them what’s important if they have too much thrown at them.” Joanides has taught at his alma mater for 15 years, and said he hopes to make his students proud by succeeding in his second attempt at Jeopardy!

He became a teacher, he said, because he wanted to be a lifelong learner. “I could be practicing law and paying off my loans,” said the University of Miami law school graduate, “but I want to pass on the tradition of education.”

Jeopardy! has aired almost 10,000 episodes since its premiere in 1964. Every year, contestants are recruited through online testing and regional auditions. South Florida was chosen this year as an add-on to the 11 areas where producers had earlier searched for teachers.

“This is a Jeopardy! town,” said Rebecca Erbstein, a producer and promotions director for the show who was present at this weekend’s auditions.

Another producer, Maggie Speak, administered the tests on Sunday in between getting to know the teachers.

“They seem very supportive of each other,” Speak said. “I got a little emotional seeing that camaraderie.”

The winner of the televised teachers tournament will land an automatic spot on Jeopardy!’s Tournament of Champions show, which pits the year’s top winners against each other.