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!