Quiz Bowlin’

When I was in high school, I played (poorly) on our school’s Academic Team.  Academic Team basically consisted of answering questions about topics that one might learn about during the course of a college preparatory high school education, covering everything from literature and mathematics to history and sports.  It was basically Jeopardy! for high schoolers.

I was—in all humility—a bit of a phenom in middle school, and was the high scorer for Aiken County, South Carolina my eighth grade year.  Then I went to high school, and the difficulty of the questions and the intensity of the practices increased dramatically.  Turns out there is a huge gap between what a kid is expected to know at the end of middle school versus the end of high school.

Still, my love for Academic Team never waned.  When I started teaching, I immediately volunteered to coach my school’s High School Quiz Bowl team (South Carolina Independent School Association [SCISA] schools call it “Quiz Bowl,” rather than “Academic Team”).  I’ve been doing so for ten years.

In that time, we’ve won Regional Championships several times; had some near-misses; and have come tantalizingly close to winning State, though we’ve never managed to lick that brass ring.  I’ve always been blessed to work with some very dedicated students, and Quiz Bowl has become a very fun part of the school year.

The way Quiz Bowl works is simple:  there are rounds consisting of (typically) twenty-five questions, called “toss-ups.”  Both teams have a chance to buzz in for toss-ups; if a team gets it wrong, the other team has a chance to answer.  If no team buzzes in within five seconds of the end of the question being read, then the moderator proceeds to the next question.

But if a team answers correctly, the team gets four bonus questions, worth five points each (a toss-up is worth ten points, so getting a toss-up and answering all four bonus questions correctly would result in thirty points total).  The bonus questions are typically related to the toss-up, and range from exceptionally easy to ludicrously difficult.  It’s not unusual for a team to come back from a sixty-point or more deficit after scoring some easy bonus questions.

That’s all to say that yesterday was the SCISA Regional and State Quiz Bowl competitions, so I took a group of seven students (four students play at a time) to Columbia, South Carolina for the competition.  Typically, SCISA hosts a series of Regional tournaments earlier in October at host schools.  The winners of those regionals (decided in “round robin” format) advance to the State competition, which consists of another series of “round robin” matches.

This year, however, SCISA opted to do everything on the same day.  They set up four different rooms with five teams each, and randomly seeded four double-elimination brackets.  Those rounds would consist of only twenty questions, rather than the standard twenty-five, to facilitate faster play.  The winners of each room would be proclaimed the winners of their “region,” and would immediately advance to the State semifinals, at which point I believe they would play in a small, single-elimination bracket.  Thus, a winner would be crowned.

My students did very well.  Their first match was the toughest, against a very good team from another school (from what I could gather, the headmaster of the school was the coach, and his daughter was the team captain, so there was definitely strong administrative and parental support for quiz bowl there).  After trailing for the first ten questions, we managed to come back, clinching victory decisively on the nineteenth question, and padding our lead comfortably on the twentieth.

We then waited for the other rounds to play out.  With the exception of one very young team—they must have been all freshman—every team was competitive.  Our rival from the first round mopped up the losers’ bracket, including a second, formidable team that we sent there in our second match.  We came back from lunch to witness the end of the losers’ bracket tournament, and found our rivals winning decisively.

We went into the final match facing our old opponents again.  They had to defeat us twice to win the room, as we’d not yet fallen to another team.  The first match was a decisive victory for them:  they beat us 220-110.  As I pointed out to my students, they only answered four more toss-ups than we did—ten to our six—but managed to drive up the score substantially on bonuses.  I encouraged my squad to stay focused and to be quick on the buzzers.

Well, the second match was essentially the same as the first.  It was something like 115 to 205, so we did a bit better.

Regardless, I was very proud of our team, and I suspect that our rival did quite well in the State semifinals (I would not be surprised to learn that they won the whole thing—they were very good).  We have one senior, our captain, and the rest are sophomores and freshman (the freshman did not get to play this time around).  Three of the sophomores are very strong players, and have room to grow, so I’m excited for the next couple of years.

More importantly, the kids felt good about their performance.  They should!  The level of talent in SCISA schools is substantial, and our team apparently has a reputation for being a tough competitor.  That’s a reputation I hope to cultivate further.

We’ll take the rest of this week off for practices, but we’ll start gearing up for an invitational tournament that will be at the University of South Carolina in February.  That’s always a fun tournament, and I’m excited to see how we do this year (it will be our second time attending).

Stay tuned for more exciting quiz bowl news!

—TPP

19 thoughts on “Quiz Bowlin’

  1. So general knowledge then Tyler. Mine is pretty scrappy really unless I am asked about food or the novels of Charles Dickens. I was on a pub quiz team for a while and although five out of six of us had degrees and four had been teachers we actually managed to come bottom out of twelve teams once. We never actually won, I think the best we did was second. Sadly, since Covid the pub where the quiz was held has now closed and I haven’t heard if an alternative venue has been sought. They were mostly fun evenings even if I could never answer anything much.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha, yes, sometimes depth of knowledge doesn’t cut it, especially if you’re an academic and get a lot of sports and pop culture questions. Years ago a group of teachers and I would hit up a local burger bar once a week, and we usually ended in the top three, so there was always a generous bar tab every time we went. I don’t drink, but I certainly exploited the tab for free burgers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always thought the wider a person’s interests are, they better they do in these types of quizzes. When I still had a memory, I was really pretty good at the game Trivial Pursuit. Fun game!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yep, in Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy for that matter, it’s all about breadth of knowledge, depth matters but not so much. It’s like a history survey course (or general math). Quickness matters as well. Yes, I was pretty good at both, to the point the bar where I last played Jeopardy regularly made a semi-serious effort to get me to go to the tryouts for the show. Sadly working for a living got in the way. And with my luck, all the questions would have been on Hollywood and such fripperies anyway.

      The one that was amazingly tough though was the old ‘GE College Bowl’ much harder than the SAT test for example.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You are absolutely right—it’s all about knowledge, speed, and confidence. I always tell my players, “I’d rather you buzz in quickly and be wrong confidently than to know the right answer and hesitate.” Hesitation is fine against a less experienced time, when you have a moment extra to think through the clues, but against a seasoned team, there’s no time to check your gut before buzzing—you’ve got to GO for it. Oftentimes students have told me, “I new such-and-such question, but they buzzed in before I could,” or “I waited too long to buzz in because I wanted to be sure.” Your gut will be wrong sometimes, but it’s usually right, so BUZZ IN!

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      • I learned a long time ago, in high school actually, that my first thought was usually right, and not to overthink, just go with it. True for things like this and also true for any exam/test. I suppose YMMV but it’s true for me. If you think you know, you’ll have a second or so to think after pushing the button to clarify. You;re correct, it’s all about confidence. BTW, playing along with Jeopardy on TV is really good practice.

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      • Exactly! You have that extra couple of seconds after buzzing in to collect your thoughts. I noticed yesterday that my “math kid” (there’s always one kid who is the designated mathematics wizard who solves those problems) was stopping his calculations when the other team buzzed in. I told him between rounds, “Don’t stop—if they get it wrong, you’re getting valuable extra seconds to solve the problem.”

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    • Yes, as Neo pointed out, so much of it is breadth of knowledge. You can see why guys like Neo and myself were good at the game—we’re sponges for information about just about everything. The math computational questions (usually every fifth question) are the ones where I’d just put the buzzer down, haha. You have fifteen seconds to answer those, as opposed to the usual five, but some of the questions they ask are so dense, you have to be a human calculator to solve them in time. Often, though, there is some gimmick to them—a super-involved question ends up just being “1” or “0” or the like. Some of them are patterns you just start to recognize from studying trigonometry, for example, so you _could_ solve them, but you start to recognize, “Oh, such-and-such is going to equal 1” or the like.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh lordy Tyler, trigonometry? Really? Maths was never one of my strong points even though my father was an excellent mathematician and my sister was pretty good too. That gene skipped me I am afraid and I never got the hang of those weird algebra equations. I spent many an evening sitting crying at the kitchen table with my exasperated father – usually very patient – who endeavoured to show me how they were done. Miraculously I passed my O Level in maths aged sixteen, the upper standard for maths at that age back in 1974 in GB. I have other talents of course. Ahem.

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      • I had a similar relationship with math, but of my brothers, I think I was the strongest at it in school. My younger brother is the real numbers whiz now, and he works with them for a living. I have a much better understanding of math now, but it’s hard when you’re a teenaged boy. I flunked my first quarter of calculus my senior year of high school because I missed—Neo will cringe upon reading this—how to do derivatives. That’s ALL calculus is!

        Fortunately, I dropped down from the highest level of calculus to the lowest level, which was pretty much a month or more behind the other level, and went to National Honor Society tutoring. In five minutes the cute girl who always lent me her awesome blue pen in English class taught me how to do what I’d struggled for nine weeks to figure out (granted, it was much easier to pay attention to the cute pen girl than my excellent but quite wizened calculus teacher—who actually attends church with my parents!).

        After that, I pretty much aced low-level calculus. In college, I was able to fulfill my paltry mathematics requirements with two semesters of Computer Science, which consisted of a semester of HTML followed by a semester of HTML with JavaScript, and all the JS was written for us, we just had to know where and how to plug it in! It was a cakewalk, but also quite useful.

        Since then, the only math I subject myself or others to (besides my own personal finances) is when I teach music theory and economics. Music theory is fascinating, and explains much about why what we like sounds pleasing to us. Math is beautiful after all—who knew?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You are involved in so many diverse activities. I didn’t even know there was a Quiz Bowl. I’m sure your students had a great time of fun and learning with you at the helm.

    Liked by 2 people

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