James “Jim” “Jimmy” Bickford and I were Claremont kids and graduated Claremore High together way back in 2001.
Since the 5th grade, I have called him the smartest person I know. I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way! As a longtime fan of Jeopardy!, he heard that online auditions were being held in late 2014. (Around 70,000 people took the test and only the top finishers were contacted.) He did well enough that the show contacted him and asked if he would be willing to do a screen test in Denver in early 2015. They liked what they saw. James was now in their contestant pool and was picked as a contestant two years later. Although Jim taped his episodes in April of this year, his first will air this month on September 29th.
James said, “I have been a fan for so long that it wasn’t difficult answering in the form of a question or being in the same room with Alex Trebek. The tough part is the timing of it all. You might know every answer but fail to buzz in at the exact right moment.”
He explained that the smoothness of the show we see at home isn’t exactly how it goes while they record ‘live’. After the question is asked, a judge hits a button allowing the contestants to buzz. If you buzz early you are “frozen” from buzzing again for a millisecond. If you buzz a half second late, you might just miss your chance altogether.
James said, “It’s not all about knowledge, it is also about timing.”
As with most television game shows, there are a lot of things the audience doesn’t see or know. For example, Jeopardy! tapes an entire week’s worth of shows in one day. The winner stays and the new challengers take the stage. On that note, James is about 6’5” and his competitors were well… not. They had to stand on risers so they all looked roughly the same height for the camera. They record Jeopardy! at Sony Studios in Culver City (L.A.), the same sound stage where parts of the original Wizard of Oz film were shot. Pretty cool.
Jim says you should watch all week. (September 25th-29th). He will be one of the challengers on the Friday show, but it will give you an idea of the reigning champion’s style and ability.
James still has plenty of ties to Claremore. His sister Ashley lives in Claremore and his brother-in-law is the head football coach at Verdigris. His little brother lives just down the road in Jenks, America. His cousin, BJ Bickford, and wife Jennie own and operate Cherokee Data Solutions and were just named to the 40 under 40 list.
His mother, Cynthia Bickford, is a longtime Claremore resident. When James and his wife Kelly headed for LA to tape the show, grandma flew out to Aurora, Colorado to watch their only child, Kate. Jim and Kelly have lived in the Aurora area for nine years.
Cynthia said, “It was great getting to watch my grandchild. I am excited to see Jim on TV. He used to watch Jeopardy! after school and we always played Trivial Pursuit in the car for fun.”
James Bickford was a valedictorian and a National Merit finalist. He was a member of the academic bowl team from junior high through high school. He left Claremore for Norman and became a Sooner. After receiving his undergrad, he made the jump to law school at a small university you might have heard of: Georgetown.
After graduating law school, he and his wife Kelly moved to Aurora, Colorado. At the time, Kelly was a physician’s assistant, but has now transitioned to stay-at-home mom and singer-songwriter. Their daughter Kate is now 18 months old and the couple just celebrated their 11-year wedding anniversary this past May.
Jimmy is not a big-city hotshot lawyer these days. He is still a hotshot lawyer, but in his local community. He started their own company, Bickford Law LLC (www.bickfordlegal.com), and added a law partner last year. Jim and his partner practice real estate, estate planning and business law.
Jimmy said, “We like helping people. We are building up our client list from a local standpoint with aspirations of being active in the same community where we practice. Our cost is lower because we aren’t in downtown Denver and my down-home Claremore upbringing helps me relate in the suburban setting.”
Jimmy is the one kid I used to say would be President someday. I still believe this is not only possible, but highly likely. He is active in his community serving as the Chairman of the Board for the YMCA, incoming Rotary President and Vice-Chair of the Business Advisory Board for the Aurora City Council.
I spoke with his mother over the phone and asked if we could persuade Jimmy back to Claremore. She didn’t say no. She did mention he is licensed in both Colorado and Oklahoma. (Fingers crossed.)
I asked Jimmy and Cynthia about him growing up in Claremore.
Cynthia said, “Good things come out of Claremore. I am glad he went to Claremore Public Schools and was raised in a great community.”
Jimmy said, “Everyone talks about private school, but it is not always the right choice. Growing up in Claremore gave me an appreciation for working hard and making it on my own. I had a perfect mixture of teachers, friends and family in a community that really cares about the person. It is hard to see the long-term possibilities when you are growing up, but looking back and seeing how an active community influences your life is important and helpful.”
Not only is Jimmy the smartest guy I know, he might just be the most genuine. He’s an intellectual with a giving personality and a family man with dreams and goals to match. We will be watching as he competes on Jeopardy! and hopefully brings home a few bucks!