New Your State School Boards Association

Students engaged as teacher wins big on 'Jeopardy!'

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • August 14, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The answer is: This five-time "Jeopardy!" champion's recent performance earned him the popular TV quiz show's distinction as "The Final Streaker of Season 33."

The question: Who is Moravia High School social studies teacher Justin Vossler?

For more than a week in July, the Moravia school district community and "Jeopardy!" fans across the nation were riveted by the string of victories chalked up by Vossler, 28.

"We're all watching. I think the whole town is," Moravia school board President Michelle Lyon told On Board after Vossler's second winning appearance was broadcast.

The young teacher from the Finger Lakes region would go on to appear four more times, pocketing total winnings of $110,000 and a shot at returning later this year to compete in the show's annual Tournament of Champions.

As Vossler's streak grew, students gathered to watch his progress at house parties and restaurants, parents called to congratulate him, and local fans posted their celebratory comments on the school district's Facebook page.

Moravia Superintendent John Birmingham was among the few who knew of Vossler's appearance on the show when the taping took place in April. The young teacher had notified Birmingham that he would need an uncertain amount of time off, but he didn't explain his absence to his students.

Birmingham told On Board that anyone who noticed Vossler's easy-going demeanor and quick sense of humor during the "Jeopardy!" episodes would have a pretty good idea of what he's like in everyday life.

"He's just a real asset to the district," said Birmingham.

A graduate of Wellsville High School in Allegany County, Vossler is scheduled to start his seventh year at Moravia in September. He teaches global history and economics, and he coaches varsity boys' soccer at the high school. Last season, he also coached modified track, and he was selected by the 2017 seniors as their graduation speaker.

He received a bachelor's degree in history/adolescence education from SUNY Geneseo and a master's degree in social studies education from SUNY Cortland.

Vossler told On Board his background as a social studies teacher helped him make solid "educated guesses" as he played "Jeopardy!" - especially when clues hinted at historical context.

"Like most social studies teachers, I include cultural artifacts in my instruction when possible," he said. "That means I have to become familiar with science and technology, philosophy, the arts, and a wide variety of other areas, which gives me a broad knowledge base outside of history and geography."

While it was Vossler's correct responses and savvy wagering strategy that built his winning streak, it was a mistake that provided one of his most memorable moments on the show.

The clue had asked contestants to identify what type of animal President Teddy Roosevelt's six-toed White House pet, Slippers, was. Slippers, as another player knew, was a cat, but Vossler buzzed in first.

His off-beat guess?

A sloth.

That earned him a quizzical look and raised eyebrows from host Alex Trebek.

"Hey, why not?" a smiling Vossler responded - still remembering, of course, to answer in the form of a question.


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