Welcome to Greater Pennsylvania QuizBowl!

Welcome to GPQB! If this is your first time here, you might be interested in “What is Quizbowl?” and “How do I start a Quizbowl team?

Current quizbowl players and coaches might want to check out our resources for “How to Get Better at Quizbowl.”

Looking for a tournament to play? Check out our tournament schedule for the upcoming year.

As always, feel free to comment on any post if you have any questions or feedback; we’re happy to help interested students or teachers with starting a new team at their schools. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @paquizbowl or email us at gpquizbowl@gmail.com.

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Tri-State Tussle IV (10/13/18) Wrap-Up

23 teams from 12 different schools came together this past Saturday at Delaware Valley High School in Milford, PA for the fourth annual Tri-State Tussle. Links to the morning and afternoon stats can be found here.

Teams from out of state claimed the top three spots on the day (Keep working hard so this doesn’t happen again, PA teams!): An undefeated Troy A (NY) took first place, followed by Wilton (CT) and Ithaca A (NY). Moravian A led all Pennsylvania teams with a 4th-place finish. They ended the day with a PPB over 20 and got solid contributions from all four team members on the day, with Alex Adams leading them in PPG. In 5th was Wallenpaupack A, a team of returning young players continuing to grow together. Gavin Heard led this team in scoring, but like Moravian, all four players averaged at least one tossup per game, and their PPB ended up around 19. Rounding out the top bracket was Delaware Valley A, who topped their prelim bracket before joining the other two PA teams in a circle of death in the playoffs. Emma Dove continued her emergence as a strong player to lead them in scoring, but again, each player made a notable impact on the day.

Two more Pennsylvania squads topped the second bracket. Greater Nanticoke A, in just their second-ever Saturday tournament, finished on top on a PPB tiebreaker. Props to them for their excellent work! Camp Hill came up next. Sydney Preston had an excellent day, finishing as Pennsylvania’s highest-scoring player with 85.5 PPG, and Gus Eberlein added some solid points as a second scorer as well. They notched a morning 300-280 victory over Ithaca A, and could be a fun team to watch as the season develops. Lakeland A continued their adjustment to the post-Goerlitz days with a nice finish as well; a run to the SSNCT playoffs should be a good goal for them this year. Three players from Delaware Valley B rounded out this bracket.

Young players from Moravian, Wallenpaupack, Delaware Valley, Lakeland, and Greater Nanticoke all filled out the remaining brackets, gaining some good experience for the future. It was also good to see Berwick return to the circuit for some more quizbowl fun!

Overall, the northeastern part of the state is characterized by developing youth. Will some of these teams be able to challenge the state’s top-ranked squads as we’ve seen in the past? Keep an eye out for that this year!

-Ryan Bilger

Nittany Lion Novice IV Wrap-Up

Eleven teams were on hand to kick off Pennsylvania’s quizbowl action for 2018-19 this Saturday at Penn State University. A combination of first time schools and newer players from established teams competed for the championship. Full stats for the event can be found here.

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State College A defended their title at Nittany Lion Novice with a 10-1 record.

Semi-hometown team State College A defended their NLN championship with a 10-1 record, with their only loss in the first round to their own F team. This five person team managed to win in large part on bonus conversion, which was a couple points higher than the rest of the field and particularly assisted them in a 265-155 win in the finals where both teams answered similar numbers of tossups. Sophomore Kueyong’s 56 points per game led the way in an impressive performance, good for third in overall scoring.

Runners up were first time entrants Mechanicsburg, out of the Harrisburg area. I was impressed not only by the strong command of the academic material by this team (especially some good history and science buzzes), but their enthusiasm and quick adaptation to the Saturday invitational format. While they might have run out of steam by the end, I think Mechanicsburg has a very bright future with this team, all of whom were sophomores or younger. Todd particularly shined with a tournament leading 82 points per game.

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Mechanicsburg before their round 6 match-up. They’d finish 9-2.

Third went to State College F, which was led by a dominant performance by Ananya and her phenomenal fine arts knowledge (77 ppg, second at the tournament). Huntingdon took 4th behind a 7-4 performance and some very good general knowledge buzzes. They made their circuit debut at this event three years ago and continue to build up. Some of the youngest players from state stalwart Manheim Township pulled in at fifth, with Ellie finishing with 50 points a game on the nose. The field was also filled out with additional State College teams and two teams from circuit newcomer Union High school in Clarion County. They seemed to be having a ball and many teams could stand to learn from their spirit.

As you can see from the stats, 6 of the 10 top scorers were girls at the event. One of the best things to see at Nittany Lion Novice this year was the awesome success by female players, who made up almost exactly half the field. In an era where quizbowl has increased its commitment to diversity and an open environment, and the #girlsinquizbowl hashtag has become a movement, it was welcome to see it bear fruit this Saturday.  We look forward to seeing their performances continue to shine at upcoming tournaments.

This was the first mirror of PSACA’s second set, written by Pennsylvania quizbowl’s own elder statesman, former coach Bill Tressler. It is intended for a novice audience. The difficulty seemed appropriate for most of the teams Saturday, and very few questions went dead, even in areas new players tend to struggle such as fine art. If your team missed NLN, there are still mirrors of the set at Friends Select in Philadelphia (10/20), Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh (10/27), and Bermudian Springs High in Adams County (11/17). This is an ideal set for new schools so if you’re interested in starting a team up, you can find more information about them linked above.

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Manheim Township’s team finished 7-3. They were the champions of the first two NLN tournaments.

This was a great way to start the season and I’m excited to see how far these players can go locally and perhaps even nationally. The next stop on the train will be in the northeastern tip of the state, where another tournament will be having its fourth incarnation: Delaware Valley’s Tri-State Tussle.

-Ben

Five PA Teams Participate in Out of State Events

The formal start of the Pennsylvania quizbowl season has, for the last few years, been the Nittany Lion Novice event at Penn State University. It’s been the first tournament in the state each of those years, making it a nice benchmark for the ramping up of fall quizbowl activities. This year’s incarnation will take place this coming Saturday. However, as there are events in some neighboring states during September, some PA schools choose to begin their season a bit early. I thought it was worth briefly covering some out of state action that readers might have missed in a mini-wrap up.

  • On September 22nd, Penn Manor played Johns Hopkins Novice Tournament. The event was aimed at new teams and freshmen, though best I can tell Penn Manor fielded a full strength team. This led to a strong 2nd place finish for the A team, with an 8-2 record and 66 powers. Though the weak nature of the field means we should take tossup numbers with a grain of salt, they did manage a very promising 24 points per bonus on an A set, which bodes well for future performances. Penn Manor B finished 4-6.
  • Friends Select started off the season at Rutgers University the same day, going 6-4 against a competitive field. This is all the more impressive because they were missing their returning starter from last year, Rudyard. Matt D’Annunzio emerged as a potential star player himself behind a 23/26/6 line for 57 ppg, and the team averaged about 22.6 PPB as well. At full strength, Friends Select should continue to contend.
  • Two Northeastern PA regulars, Delaware Valley and Wallenpaupack, ventured to Princeton University for the annual PHSAT tournament on September 29th. PHSAT runs on an IS set. It was not the best day in terms of W-L for Pennsylvania, with DV going 3-8 and Wallenpaupack A ending the day winless against a brutal field of top New York City area teams. While both might be rebuilding, it was good to see them start of the year and get going on the learning and studying early. Delaware Valley’s Emma Dove led the way in scoring with around 44 points per game.
    • We would be remiss not to mention that Jack Edmondson, a former Pennsylvania high school player, was the director of the tournament. Princeton has in the past been notorious for poorly run tournaments that would continue well into the evening, but Jack directed by all accounts a logistically excellent event. We’re proud of him for spreading the Pennsylvania way of running events and fixing a longstanding trouble tournament!
  • Lastly, GPQB’s #1 Ranked team, Allderdice, ventured to Miami Valley High School in Ohio on the 29th to play the same set as was read at Princeton. Allderdice finished 3rd in their playoff bracket, one of two parallel brackets. With more powers than 10s and 22 points per bonus, they had a very solid performance, especially since they were slightly shorthanded. Jakobi Deslouches’ 61 points per game in a stacked field stands out.

Ben

GPQB 2018-2019 Pre-Season Poll

Friends,

It’s quizbowl time again! Buzzers are being set up and tryouts are being held as we speak which will determine what the new season will look like for PA quizbowl. While we experienced many graduations last year, many great players remain waiting for a chance to show what they know. The panel agreed that this season had an open field with top spots very much up for grabs. Here are the results of our annual pre-season poll:

  1. Allderdice (140 points, unanimous #1)
  2. State College A (124 points)
  3. Henderson (103 points)
  4. Manheim Township (84 points)
  5. Penn Manor (81 points)
  6. Friends Select (60 points)
  7. Downingtown STEM (59 points)
  8. Great Valley (47 points)
  9. State College B (42 points)
  10. Hempfield (23 points)

Also receiving votes were Delaware Valley (4) and Winchester Thurston (3)

We wish all teams the best of luck with the upcoming season, and look forward to reading for you at tournaments!

-The Staff

The voters for the poll were: Ryan Bilger, Richard Chen, Ben Herman, Antonio Jimenez, Ashish Kumbhardare, Sebastien La Duca, Nick Luca, Bryce Katch, Andrew Nadig, Colton Sanden, Alex Sankaran, Vishwa Shanmugam, Steven Silverman, Rohan Vora

THE RISE OF A CIRCUIT, PT. 2: Defining Community Values

This is a continuation of last month’s post on the consolidation and rise to prominence of Pennsylvania’s circuit. Last time, we discussed the structural changes, such as better tournament practices, social media, and logistical organization of resources. These were useful and helped create a stable circuit, both competitive and socially. That post stayed largely factual in its arguments. This current post won’t be, as it will contain more of my own opinion about how things have come to work in Pennsylvania’s quizbowl community.

I argue that in addition to the nuts-and-bolts structural elements of the circuit, Pennsylvania has become stronger because it has adopted certain cultural values about what we want the quizbowl circuit to be which its members accept as community goals. In a few recent discussions with other locals involved with the game, I’ve refereed to this somewhat humorously as “capital P” Pennsylvania quizbowl, a specific way of doing things, as opposed to “lower case p” Pennsylvania quizbowl, which is simply pyramidal events that occur within the borders of the state. The community has agreed upon some core values that I feel we place different weight on than the larger, national quizbowl community, giving us a distinct identity.

In this post, I will put forth three propositions that I consider central to capital P Pennsylvania quizbowl and the sense of identity we have forged. While there is no written in stone agreement on any one point, but I feel there is a general consensus among the community on these items. They help define what we are, what we’ve done, and what we hope to continue to do.

Proposition #1: Quizbowl can and should be for the many, and not for the few.

This will be a controversial statement: the idea that good quizbowl should be accessible to everyone is treated as a truism in the national community in speech, but not in action. One need only look at the vast number of tournaments that overshoot their difficulty and the factional disputes over how to write questions over elements irrelevant to 99% of quizbowlers to see a disturbing pattern. Question production has become something one does for one’s self as a player, as a study tool, rather than as a product for use by someone else. This mindset holds back the growth potential of quizbowl. Sets are being produced with the advanced meta-game and the in-crowd in mind, and not the untapped mass audience. This is particularly problematic because it limits the number of good, playable questions accessible to high schools who do not know about quizbowl, won’t know the canon, and will feel overwhelmed by the writer’s difficulty arms race as those writers try to learn clues to compete themselves. Too hard sets mean that new teams are unlikely to stick.

Pennsylvania quizbowl’s community has fought this by doing our best to offer playable sets to novice teams. The PA Novice series, currently written and edited by Bill Tressler, provides a tangible product which can be mirrored widely in the state as a friendly introduction. It focuses on broadly known topics and features a very non-mACF distribution that downplays parts of quizbowl that the uninitiated are unlikely to know (letting them work their way to things like fine arts and philosophy after they get their feet wet). JV divisions are near ubiquitous, and they often use easier sets than the Varsity division in order to keep the experience fun for new teams by avoiding tough answer lines or aggressively lengthy tossups. Outreach-focused events avoid IS sets and house-writes, which we have seen time and again overwhelm new clubs. The outreach done by the Pennsylvania community always keeps these issues of difficulty front and center in our strategic planning. A new student’s first taste of quizbowl should always be an accessible and enjoyable one.

Proposition #2: Good quizbowl is more than good questions.

The overall experience of a tournament for high school players is defined by much, much more than simply giving them good questions to play on. This is not to say Pennsylvania Quizbowl sees question structure and game format as irrelevant, anything but. Questions that swerve, unfair game structure, and an overabundance of obscure material do leave students upset and must be combated. What I mean to say is only that good questions are not sufficient in and of themselves to call a tournament “good quizbowl.” One can have the fairest and most interesting questions in the world, but if the tournament runs hours overdue, the price is too high, the staff is aloof, the rules are not made clear beforehand, or the stats are done incorrectly or not posted, the experience of the player will be adversely affected. A central tenant of Pennsylvania’s quizbowl practice is that all these things must run well and this is just as important as using pyramidal questions.

Some of the things discussed in the previous post are relevant here. Chief among them, t the Pennsylvania way requires that all staff are familiar with the rules and if assigned to moderate can read a round effectively in a half hour or less. To make a quizbowl tournament work all your staff must know both the rules of the game and the cadence of the quizbowl match. Without this, delays are bound to ensue. This comes through exposure and cannot be trained on paper or with an explanation. Pennsylvania TDs are proud of our efficient end times, with the standard of finishing before 4:00 and often much quicker. Further, the community publicly pressures hosts that do not do stats on time, and it ensures fair prices for tournaments to give people their money’s worth. Running a “good quizbowl” tournament here means more than purchasing a good set.

Proposition #3: One is not only an alumnus or alumna of their school, but also of Pennsylvania Quizbowl at large.

Pennsylvania quizbowl has a grassroots atmosphere. We could not run anything like the operation we do without the growing group of volunteers who give up many Saturdays a year to read. Most of them played quizbowl for a Pennsylvania high school themselves. They won’t simply help out their own alma mater, but will help at any school they can drive to. The staff corps unites the Pennsylvania circuit through its collective effort to make sure every site has as many elite moderators as possible. Beyond the moderators and statisticians, many of the players themselves become part of this process. I am astounded and humbled by the fact so many players still in high school will give up their own weekends when they’re not playing to read at middle school tournaments, or novice divisions that need help. Pennsylvanian quizbowlers are in the habit of doing each other favors, and thus forming close personal relationships.

We beleive that helping one PA high school makes all PA high schools better. They will drive each other to study and exchange interesting things they learn. Thus, our rising circuit’s success is to some extent a collective achievement, not just that of the constituent schools. Obviously, individual teams that win the titles should get specific recognition of their hard work. Yet, there is a sense that we are all in this together and can grow stronger through cooperation.

-Ben Herman

Downingtown STEM Interview

Today’s interview is with Vishwa Shanmugam (VS), Rohan Vora, (RV), and Anish Gadgil (AG), three members of the Downingtown STEM Academy team that finished T-8 at the 2018 NAQT HSNCT and 18th at the 2018 PACE NSC. They ended the season ranked #1 in Pennsylvania.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JW: How did you first get into playing quizbowl?

VS: Last year, we were contacted to play the Downingtown East Invitational. So we went there, did that, had a pretty good time, and then we discovered there were quizbowl forums. We signed up for Great Valley’s tournament the next month, and then Wissahickon, and ever since we’ve just played whatever we could. I had previously found NAQT’s website and Protobowl and stuff linked on our academic team study website, but we didn’t do anything with that—I had kind of assumed that NAQT was only for certain areas and our area just didn’t have anything.

RV: I remember we actually used to practice on NAQT pyramidal stuff, which wasn’t anything like the CCIU competition. It’s funny because every time we got to the bonuses packet we’d have no idea what to do, so we’d just skip those.

JW: What are the biggest differences between playing in your local academic competition and pyramidal quizbowl tournaments?

AG: Well, I think with the local format—they are speedchecks and there are three teams up against each other, so there isn’t really any cohesive strategy involved in playing them. There’s pretty much an element of randomness and luck. The biggest difference is that, flipping to pyramidal, you can actually begin to think critically about games, beyond just knowledge, about how to organize yourselves.

RV: And to take it in a bit of a different direction, I feel like through pyramidal, we were able to connect with many more people and make much more close friends, because pyramidal to me is more born out of passion for the game, and we basically just connect much more easily with the sort of people who are very much into this. You’d think the local competition would be more conducive to making friends, but we actually found that a lot of people were just playing that out of obligation.

VS: Yeah, and the quizbowl Facebook groups are all pretty active; people are really into that sort of stuff. Actual quizbowl tournaments are just more fun, like people are having more of a good time.

JW: How have you gotten involved in the quizbowl community and what is something you want people to know about it?

VS: The thing that people yell a lot about is insularity, but it’s also like, you can talk to people even if you’re not some 200 PPG star player. There’s definitely the [Illinois Quizbowl Memes] Facebook page, where you can just connect with random people, and the Quizpolling page, where there’s a lot of wholesome threads where you can just chill and talk to people.

AG: If you’re new to the community, and you’re maybe not like super duper good right off the bat, and you have a lot of inhibitions, it can be a little bit difficult—but people are nice and really approachable. Once you can get past that single barrier of inhibition when it comes to interacting with people in the community—I think that kinda just comes with time—then you’ll find it a lot easier to interact with the community at large.

RV: I’ve found that top players and very important community figures are a lot more approachable in quizbowl than in any other activity. Like, on the Pennsylvania Discord, for example, there could be some high schoolers just casually talking about Dragon Ball Z with Eric Mukherjee, who’s like this legendary player—you know, just stuff like that.

JW: What are some tips you would give to students in nonpyramidal local leagues who are interested in trying good quizbowl?

VS: Definitely check out what’s near you, and if there’s something near you, that’s always a great place to start.

AG: And if your program doesn’t already have a history of pyramidal quizbowl and you’re interested in doing that, try to incorporate more and more pyramidal elements in practices, try to encourage your memberships to grow larger, and push people towards going to tournaments and building a program that can support you throughout your pyramidal journey. Housekeeping in general is very important in addition to linking up with the community.

VS: It’s pretty easy to get your coaches to switch to practicing on pyramidal questions, because they’re often on similar material to nonpyramidal questions. And you can integrate it into your normal practice schedule.

RV: The great thing about pyramidal quizbowl is that it does rewards studying—and not only that, it’s worth studying for it. I personally found quizbowl much more enjoyable when I started studying for it, because I felt that my knowledge was being rewarded.

JW: How did you motivate yourselves to study so hard?*

VS: A lot of it was I realized I had started pyramidal in eleventh grade and I was like “wow, I have one year left of high school pyramidal quizbowl,” so I just spent a lot of my summer studying. I found that I really enjoyed reading packets—I’d find ways to read packets and look up stuff on Wikipedia on my laptop during school, as opposed to going home and having a rigorous three hour schedule or whatever.

AG: I would say that my experience is probably a little different from his, because on a personal level, I wasn’t really all that motivated to study until recently. The biggest thing for me was osmosis, because I was on a team that was gradually becoming more competitive and, being dragged into these upper echelons of quizbowl, I was being forced to scale up. In a weird way, the feeling of being left behind was a really big impetus to growing as a player.

RV: Through quizbowl, I ended up finding new interests, which helped me—that’s how I ended up studying, actually. Before quizbowl, I wasn’t somebody who was hugely into classical music, but since I acted as kind of an arts specialist for the team, I basically became a lot more into visual arts and compositional music and that sort of thing.

VS: I found I remembered that I really liked reading books, since I hadn’t done that for a few years before discovering quizbowl. I also tried to study in ways I enjoyed; I held off on the carding for a while, until I got to nats season, because carding isn’t something I can internally motivate myself to do.

JW: What was your study schedule like?*

VS: I really just didn’t have one. I read packets whenever I felt like it, I fell into random Wikipedia holes, and occasionally I picked up a book when I could motivate myself to. I don’t think you need a strict study schedule to be good, but if you’re one of the people who won’t study unless you have a schedule, maybe that helps.

AG: My motivation kinda fluctuated throughout the season, and unlike Rohan and Vishwa, I was a junior, so I had a lot of school-related deadlines close to nats season. So, as for me, as I couldn’t find time to make a regimented study schedule, so I incorporated studying in whatever ways I could. In general, I think that if you find something that’s conducive to your quizbowl personality and your schedule, there are many ways you can ensure consistent improvement.

RV: I’d read whenever I had time in school or at home, and if I was motivated to study I would read arts questions and arts content, and later if it came to my mind, I’d read into it more and look it up. I just tried to make quizbowl a part of my life, and that was my studying.

JW: What are your study tips for learning and remembering literature?*

VS: I think that it’s really worthwhile to read a lot of the short stuff. The time versus efficiency tradeoff on reading a summary of a poem versus reading the poem is kind of low. I definitely encourage you to read a lot of the stuff you can get through in one day—like, read a lot of plays and short stories. For remembering stuff, carding definitely helps if you’re a person like me that’s bad at character names or bad at obscure titles. But reading is the best way to get plot details, or using Sparknotes, or what have you.

JW: You played out of state quite a bit during the season—what do you think are the benefits of doing so?

RV: We got to go to this really nice Middle Eastern place in New Jersey, we don’t have that here.

AG: The biggest benefit for playing out of state is that certain tournaments become nexuses for highly competitive teams to go to. It’s very important to consider your team’s goals and motivations for doing so—if you are a team that is highly motivated to getting into higher levels of play, then it can be highly advantageous.

VS: I’ll go the less nerd response and say, it’s also just really fun to meet people outside your circuit. Like, it’s cool to see fresh faces, and some of my best friends are from adjacent circuits that don’t come to PA tournaments very often. If you do go out of circuit, you should bring snacks and give them to people and then they’ll be your friends.

JW: From the past season, is there any specific victory you’re especially proud of?

RV: There were a few games at the nationals and pre-nationals tournaments where all three of us had pretty significant scoring in a close game.

VS: Hunter was like that, I think we all got at least two buzzes against them and we won by a tossup at BEST.

AG: I think our game against BGA at HSNCT was somewhat similar.

VS: On a team level, beating TJ was a really nice achievement. It was a good experience to see us meshing together as a team and putting in the work to beat good teams.

JW: Do you have any memorable team moments or favorite stories you’d like to share?

RV: I don’t even know where to start. The three of us have so many memories of having political discussions, or making jokes, or car rides going to or from tournaments, or being at tournaments—there’s just so much silly stuff that’s happened over the years. In our match versus Hunter at BEST, they got an early lead on us and we were coming back. With just a few tossups to go, Chloe (from Hunter) called a timeout, and Vishwa and Anish and I went to the other side of the room. Vishwa’s leaning on this AC unit, and in the middle of discussing our strategy, Vishwa’s just like “hey I look really cool leaning on this radiator, don’t I?” and then we won the game. There’s so much really weird stuff going on like that. He didn’t even look that cool, but we won.

VS: The context was they were having this really serious discussion and I was like, wow, I want this to be a little more fun than that. Speaking of the car rides, we always listened to “Sofia” by Alvaro Soler.

AG: We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but “Sofia” being a good song, that’s one commonality we have.

JW: Anish, what are your goals for next year’s STEM team?

AG: Rebuilding is going to prove to be a formidable challenge. But it’s not entirely bad; it’s sort of cliche but in many ways it is kind of a new beginning, and an opportunity for me to leave my mark and have us grow something at D-STEM. Results at nationals and whatnot are important and nice, and of course I’m not going to let that down, but I am going to try to focus on making quizbowl have a presence at our school amongst extracurriculars and turning D-STEM into a school that can consistently produce strong teams.

JW: Rohan and Vishwa, do you intend to continue playing and/or being involved with quizbowl in the future?

RV: I will continue to play quizbowl, and hopefully to do some outreach and some moderating; I do want to try to staff some Pennsylvania tournaments if I can. And I definitely want to be involved with New York City’s tournament circuit as well, to try and improve those to the standards we have in Pennsylvania.

VS: Same. A couple of Maryland people have talked to me about doing stuff with It’s Academic, which is like the local league version of Maryland’s nonpyramidal quizbowl. I’m also trying to help write and edit more stuff, so I’m writing for Terrapin this year and I’m editing for RMBAT. I’m also definitely going to play.

JW: Is there anything else you guys would like to add?

VS: I looked really cool leaning on that radiator. Don’t let Rohan lie to you about that.

AG: As a more serious statement, we’ve been playing for the better part of the last year and a half, and honestly I’ve had a blast. We’ve come together really close as a team and we’re forever indebted and in gratitude to the Pennsylvania circuit for making these things possible for us.

RV: I’m glad to have teamed with the two of you, and I don’t know if the same sort of chemistry could have happened with anyone else at STEM, or anyone else I know in quizbowl for that matter. I’m really happy with how our time as a quizbowl team has turned out, and I also do want to thank Pennsylvania quizbowl for helping to make us into a team that’s involved in quizbowl. And you guys can bet D-STEM quizbowl isn’t going anywhere; Downingtown STEM’s team is around here to stay. And I think that they’ll always be strong.

VS: Thanks, Franklin Mint! But really, big thanks to GPQB; we probably wouldn’t be playing quizbowl if we weren’t invited to Downingtown East’s tournament and if we didn’t find out about everything afterwards. It’s been a fun two years.

Thanks to Vishwa, Rohan, and Anish for participating in this interview!

-Jackie

*question submitted to our Instagram account

The Rise of a Circuit, Pt. 1: Structural Changes

It was a slightly warm November day, and Phoenixville High school was caked in the glow of morning sunlight. Students collected in the cafeteria, many of them unaware of the exact nature of the tournament before them. Many had traveled from Maryland and New Jersey for the upcoming quizbowl activities, and just as many were representing their school for the first time that day. 36 teams registered, but only 34 appeared, for Downingtown STEM decided not to notify the TD their two teams were not coming. The staff was a mixed lot of inexperienced students, inexperienced coaches, one former coach that had been around the block, and one college player. While the day was fun, a few critical mistakes, particularly trying to do all the stats on one computer, caused several delays throughout the day. Most teams seemed to be enjoying their experience, but struggled with IS-questions at times. Focus and competitive intensity proved hit or miss. The tournament ended with an all Wilmington Charter match, as a spirited B team unseated a lackadaisical A team. Few of the teams bothered to talk to each other between games.

This particular tournament, from 2013, was the first high-school-hosted pyramidal tournament to ever happen in Philadelphia and its four collar counties. It had been proceeded the prior spring by a 24 team tournament at Manheim Township, up from 8 teams in 2012. Outside of these, if one wanted to play pyramidal quizbowl, one had to go to the well established but weak and scattered western circuit, anchored by college-run events, or look outside the state of Pennsylvania. The idea of high quality Pennsylvania quizbowl was a theoretical one, and indeed, many firsthand recollections from the period indicate the PA squads who ventured into other circuits being mocked. It is worth mentioning Phoenixville as a good example of what has changed in Pennsylvania quizbowl since. Delays have become rare, teams are experienced and extremely competitive, scores are high, drops have decreased, and out of state teams don’t win here often. What made this change possible? What might the rest of quizbowl learn from our example? This post will be the first of a two part series covering the rise to prominence of Pennsylvania in the quizbowl world. The first will focus on the structure and quizbowl practices of the circuit, and the second will focus on community building.

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For one, it must be stated upfront that Pennsylvania has not been unique in developing a circuit where a weak one existed five years ago. Florida and Nevada are also excellent examples of other young circuits, though neither has yet had the on the buzzer success of Pennsylvania’s past season or two. Other circuits that were already strong, such as California’s Northern and Southern halves, Ohio, and Illinois, have continued to improve. Counter to this, some circuits, such as the Washington DC area, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, have declined in national prominence while still producing some elite teams. What we can draw from Pennsylvania should not be taken as panacea for outreach woes, as others have been successful and may have done things different. However, we’ve gone from little to a lot in just about five and a half years’ time, so it might be worth analyzing the methods we used to get there.

The first step was simply a survey of what we had to work with in the area. How many academic teams were there, of any sort? What formats did they play? In the lead up to GPQB’s 2014 launch, we put an immense amount of man hours into simply learning all of the local high schools, compiling e-mails, and sending personalized invitations to teams all over the Philadelphia area. The process was often frustrating. Response rates for e-mail blasts are very low yield in quizbowl, as we are selling a little known activity and often going against similar competitions with short seasons and low investment from their schools. This step was important, however, for simply gathering up what we had. There were some great players waiting out there, and some dedicated coaches too. We needed all the help we could get, and having a critical mass of people was important for future steps.

Secondly, we had to galvanize places to start hosting more, and hosting with good practices. In 2012-14, there were events in Pennsylvania, but they were scattered and tended to be poorly run. Formats were non-standard and experimental, using 10 team card systems, odd tiebreakers, and poorly trained staff. A 10 round event often wouldn’t finish until 5 or 6 pm, and at times teams only got 6 or 7 rounds on the day. Even in the 2014-15 season, delays were frequent. However, with invested time, TDs began to improve their directing skills. We gradually saw the wane of “random teachers unaffiliated with quizbowl” as moderators, the impositions of training programs, and a concerted effort to get more alumni to staff. This has helped allow Pennsylvania’s circuit to develop in two key ways. For one, badly run tournaments turn off new to quizbowl schools as much as bad questions do, so eliminating inefficiencies allowed us to keep more teams around. Secondly, uniform standards are easily explainable. First time Pennsylvania hosts can now start their own events with relative ease, knowing what needs to be done and where to get resources. This was not always the case.

With better tournaments and a good grasp on what was already on the ground in Pennsylvania, effective localized outreach could occur. This has been our bread and butter. One consistent thing we’ve encountered in the state is that if you can put a tournament within an hour of a school, the chance they will try out pyramidal increases significantly. Many of our gains have been local teams that will only attend events at nearby schools and not travel; likewise, many of our losses have been from teams near tournaments that no longer occur. While large e-mail blasts were not high yield, directed local outreach by coaches at neighbor schools has proved much more effective at getting new schools on board. Similarly, access to a nearby advocate who can show a team the ropes has been extremely helpful. Chris Chiego’s work starting 7 or 8 teams in the city of Philadelphia by going in and actually visiting shows what an in-person visit and phone call can do.

It may be obvious, but it must be said that the biggest reason Pennsylvania quizbowl became better was dedicated students studying, and wanting to achieve at a high level on tough questions. A good setup helps facilitate teams becoming elite at quizbowl, but those of us working on running tournaments and inviting teams to them are only clearing the fields for others to tend to and harvest. Once we had few established programs, students had clearer standards of what to study and how to do it well (and shared them). Players saw the best and could strive to be it. We inherited State College from the old days. Their success between the late 90s and 2011 was incredible, but it’s hard to really appropriate them for “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” as we define it today. They mostly played far away and their success was at a different time where the idea of state level circuits was much more nebulous. Manheim Township and Winchester Thurston both emerged in the immediate period before circuit building set in, and both got good fast. In the last few years we have had the group of Chester County Teams, LVA, Delaware Valley, Friends Select, and most recently Allderdice take advantage of resources and combine them with competitive drive to have a notable national finish. Having teams to prove the model worked was critical in giving us something to sell to other teams. That being said, we are extremely happy to have teams less interested in performing well at nationals as well. Schools that just show up three or four times a year to learn and have fun provide a backbone for the circuit and provide a fresh perspective on how the game can be written and organized.

Accompanying student drives for success, GPQB and individual teams worked to increase our visibility within wider quizbowl off the buzzer. Pennsylvania acquired a gradual social media presence between 2015 and today, between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Discord. I think our visibility was limited with the older guard of quizbowl during the first few years, as few Pennsylvanians carved out much of a forum presence. But, our high schoolers have clearly carved out an big niche in what I’ll dub “new quizbowl media,” places like Illinois Quizbowl Memes, Quizpolling Purposes, and off-forum chatrooms. We had good players in 2015 and 2016, but none achieved national attention. This past season, we had bonafide quizbowl celebrities. This, as much as anything, has solidified our place as a region everyone considers when they look at the lay of the land.

A final but crucial step to circuit building is the still ongoing process of what I call  “harmonization.” I define this as getting all tournament hosts, moderators, coaches, and even nearby parties in other states on the same page to produce optimal scheduling and distribution of resources and time. It doesn’t make sense to schedule two events near each other on the same day, or even back to back weekends. This burdens the staffer corps, which has been very generous in helping build Pennsylvania quizbowl up and will be talked about at length in Part 2. Key sets like SCOP and IS sets need to be distributed properly to cater to Pennsylvania’s three circuits.* The founding of a coaches association and the continued involvement of outreach gurus will hopefully help this, but there are still some overlaps to deal with.

Circuit building is a never-ending process. Of the 800 or so high schools in the state, only 80 played a pyramidal invitational in the past season, and of those only 50 did it regularly. The last five years have not made Pennsylvania a pyramidal haven to the level we’d like. However, we have established a base stability that produces top teams regularly and provides hundreds of students every year with the opportunity for fair play on good questions and fun times with friends. We have large national recognition for what our players have done on the buzzer and what our alumni have done to circuit-build. This is the legacy of the first era of Pennsylvania quizbowl, and also the first chapter in a long story of amazing things.

-Ben Herman

* (Pennsylvania essentially has three major groups of teams that play each other frequently and the other two groups infrequently: the “extended Southeast” of the Philadelphia Suburbs and Dutch Country, the Northeast including the Lehigh Valley, and the Western half of Pennsylvania. There are a few teams that shuttle between these regions but they tend to be ones that play a lot.)

2018 NASAT Wrap-Up

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Pennsylvania sent three teams of five players each to the 2018 National All-Star Academic Tournament this past weekend. The players were selected by PSACA to attend the event, which was hosted by International Quiz Bowl Tournaments (IQBT) at the University of Kentucky. The tournament featured more difficult questions than other national championships like the NSC and HSNCT.

Stats are here.

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PA Blue with their 5th place plaques (L to R: Jakobi, Alex, Vishwa, Dan, Bryce)

In a field of 29 teams, Pennsylvania Blue took 5th place after losing on the last tossup in a tiebreaker against California A. Alex Schmidt (Lehigh Valley, 12) and Vishwa Shanmugam (Downingtown STEM, 12) led the team in scoring, earning 3rd and 4th individually in the prelims with 65 and 60 points per game, respectively. Combined with contributions from Jakobi Deslouches (Allderdice, 11), Bryce Katch (Manheim Township, 12), and Dan Nguyen (Manheim Township, 12), Blue defeated teams like Tennessee, Virginia A, and even eventual champions Illinois A.

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PA Gold (L to R: Richard, Jackie, Austin, Michael; missing Will)

Pennsylvania Gold made the top tier of playoffs with a 4-2 prelim record after losing to only Ohio A and Maryland Gold on Saturday morning. Richard Chen (Friends Select, 12) led the team with 40 PPG in the prelims while Michael Goerlitz (Lakeland, 12), Austin Davis (Allderdice, 11), Will Davis (Shady Side, 12), and Jackie Wu (Downingtown East, 12) provided several buzzes per game as well. Though they struggled against tough teams like PA Blue, Tennessee, Virginia, and California, they got a 250-170 win against New York A in a difficult playoff bracket and finished 12th overall.

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PA White (L to R: Vijay, Will, Connor, Anish, Michael)

Pennsylvania White, a slightly younger team than the senior-heavy Blue and Gold squads, was made up of Vijay Anne (Henderson, 10), Michael Buffa (Manheim Township, 12), Anish Gadgil (Downingtown STEM, 11), Connor Mayers (Penn Manor, 10), and Will Yaeger (Hempfield, 11). They played close games throughout the tournament with almost half their games coming down to the last tossup, though their only win was a 170-160 victory over Virginia C.

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PA team mascots, L to R: Leon (PA White), Snickerpoodle (PA Blue), Barkhausen (PA Gold)

Congrats to Illinois A for winning the tournament for the third year in a row, and special thanks to Fred Morlan and Nicole Leedy for forming IQBT to ensure that this year’s NASAT could happen. To the seniors, we wish the best of luck in the future, and we hope to see all the underclassmen back at NASAT next year!

-The Staff

GPQB Writing Team Announcements

We are excited to announce that we will be joined by two new contributors beginning this summer and upcoming competition year. Both bring unique quizbowl expertise to better cover tournaments in the state, help outreach efforts, and lead community engagement in Pennsylvania quizbowl.

Emily Dickson started playing quizbowl at Downingtown East High School, where she helped establish the team as a circuit regular. She is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is double majoring in history and international relations. She is currently the tournament director for Pitt’s high school events, and is also working on doing outreach to local schools in the Pittsburgh metro. She also is the administrator of the Facebook group Quizpolling Purposes, where quizbowlers from all over the world vote on polls regarding pyramidal quizbowl and silly stuff alike.

Rebecca Rosenthal is a junior at Swarthmore College and has played quizbowl since seventh grade. She was the captain of the team at Bergen County Academies in New Jersey from 2014-2016. She founded and leads the most recent incarnation of Swarthmore’s quizbowl club where she hopes to help expand the burgeoning Philadelphia area circuit as a tournament director and staffer. She studies Ancient History and Art History, and hopes to continue her involvement in quizbowl as an educator when she graduates.

We are thrilled to work with both Emily and Rebecca and look forward to continuing the tradition of exemplary quizbowl in Pennsylvania.

As a final announcement, our co-founder Chris Chiego will be on sabbatical from GPQB and the site’s associated social media accounts for the upcoming academic year, to focus on his schoolwork. We wish him good luck and hope to see him on tournament Saturdays.

-The Staff