Seeing their son compete this past week on the series premiere of Lifetime’s “Child Genius” reminded Gregory and Traci Sumter of their gratitude in seeing a self-motivated youngster grow in multiple ways.
John Sumter, a 9-year-old in the fourth grade at River Oaks Elementary School, was among the first group of contestants who went home from the “Child Genius” competition for 20 youth ages 8-12 – with only five from east of the Mississippi River – and a $100,000 college fund prize. However, that was just one endeavor among many activities inside and outside of school with which he stays busy.
Gregory Sumter reflected Friday about the venture on the TV show, which continues with new episodes 10-11 p.m. Tuesdays through February on the cable channel Lifetime. He also said “all the credit goes to my wife” for keeping up with John and active daily life, with the shuttling by car, waiting “in the pickup lines” at school, and always being there for his needs with the dutiful attention “a soccer mom” devotes.
Question | What are some steps that helped John qualify for joining the debut of “Child Genius”?
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Answer | He was part of a special summer class program for gifted and talented students at The Johns Hopkins University ... and he became a member of American Mensa. ... A film crew came out last December and followed him around, and they went and met with his teachers, and went to his karate class. ... They filmed that, and he played a piece of music; he’s a great piano player.
He’s pretty well rounded ... a typical little boy. He likes video games and things along that line. He’s pretty well balanced.
Q. | What have been your favorite pastimes to see John enjoy?
A. | He loves swimming, karate and piano. I’m actually walking in his room right now. He’s a huge Superman fan, and I see all his football trophies. ... He’s just a typical little boy, and he loves to read. He started reading when he was 2 years old. He was featured in an informercial for “Your Baby Can Read.”
Q. | What traits of John’s are obvious as you and wife Traci raise him and watch him grow?
A. | What really moved him was his compassion. He has one of those spirits that are very loving and very caring. When we were at Johns Hopkins University ... the kids seemed to migrate to John and tell him jokes. He has a tremendous social skill. ... It’s most important to his mom and me to have a child ... who cares about people. ... That’s probably his biggest attribute.
Q. | How has John’s staying busy with studies in school and activities after school helped shape who he is?
A. | He loves, loves school, in one program ... and they’re teaching the kids “the Seven Cs,” about cooperating, kindness, humility and all of that. ... I work with a large company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts ... and this is the stuff I teach my employees. Traci is a stay-at-home mom. ... Before she became a mother, she was in television; she worked with CNN in Atlanta, then transferred here to WBTW-TV 13 in Florence.
Q. | What did the three of you do as a family to watch the premiere of “Child Genius”?
A. | It came on at 10 o’clock at night, which is past John’s bedtime, but we sat and watched it together, then we put him to bed. Unfortunately, he was one of the first five children eliminated, but he enjoyed the experience and meeting the kids. When he got there, he was concerned on brushing up and geography and math, and he realized, “Hey, this room is full of people just like myself.” They enjoyed it.
Q. | When was taping that included John?
A. | Producers flew us out to Calfornia in July.
Q. | In the process leading up to, and including, the show production, and his departure, what else did you learn about John?
A. | It’s feeling his determination to compete again next year and win. It has aided him, too. He is starting to see value of studying and being prepared. He has a vast amount of knowledge. He mentioned to the folks who were filming him, in one part on the show, “I thought about it, then my mind went blank.” ...
I believe that with disappointments, if they’re handled appropriately, and you had a good support system ... it causes you to grow and get better. We have a saying in our house, and I use it when I’m doing meetings with staff: In life, you either get better or bitter; that’s the philosophy we try to adhere to. ...
John has said he wants to be a scientist and find a cure for cancer. Then he was talking with somebody yesterday, and he said he changed his mind about being a scientist. You have that freedom when you’re little. He said he wants to be a defense attorney.