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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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

End of Season Poll, 2017-2018

Friends,

No one would deny that this year was the most successful in Pennsylvania’s history for pyramidal quizbowl. More teams placed well nationally than ever before, and more of our players got recognition from the greater community of players, coaches, and advocates across America. So many teams deserve plaudits for their accomplishments this year, and one poll does not do them justice. Nevertheless, in annual tradition, we will forge ahead and crown a quizbowl champion for Pennsylvania among the rest.

15 voters participated in this poll. Voting was done AP style. Without further ado, here is the final poll for the elite play of the 2017-2018 season:

#1) Downingtown STEM, 150 points (+1, Unanimous choice for #1)
#2) Lehigh Valley Academy, 131 points (-1)
#3) Allderdice, 124 points (+4)
#4) Manheim Township, 104 points (+2)
#5) Friends Select, 85 points (-1)
#6) State College A, 72 points (+5)
#7) Henderson, 37 points (+2)
#8) State College B, 31 points (prev. u/r)
#9) Downingtown East, 29 points (+1)
#10) Great Valley, 25 points (-5)

Also receiving votes were Delaware Valley (22 points), Alagar Homeschool (10), Winchester Thurston (6), and Shady Side (4).

We congratulate STEM on being named GPQB champions for the season, and more importantly, we commend all of these teams, and those who did not get ranked, on their successful seasons. Have a wonderful summer, keep learning, keep exploring, and keep buzzing!

-The Staff

Voters in this poll were: Mitch Alday, Paul Birch, Ryan Bilger, Chris Chiego, Emily Dickson, Jack Edmondson, Ben Herman, Ashish Kumbhardare, Sebastien La Duca, Nick Luca, Andrew Nadig, Rebecca Rosenthal, Colton Sanden, Alex Sankaran, Steven Silverman

2018 PACE National Scholastic Championship Wrap Up

This past Saturday and Sunday saw the last major quizbowl event of the year, the PACE National Scholastic Championship. 96 teams from around the country competed for the title, including six Pennsylvania squads. Qualification for this tournament required finishing in the top 20 or 25 percent of teams at a PACE-certified tournament. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology A (VA) took first place, defeating Dublin Scioto (OH) in the first game of an advantaged final.

Full stats for the tournament can be found at this link. Please note that at the NSC, incorrect or unanswered bonus parts bounce back to the opposing team, and these bounceback statistics are displayed in the final three columns on the right, while traditional points per bonus stats appear to their left.

Downingtown STEM capped off their incredible season with a bang, finishing in 18th place with a record of 13-5. Vishwa Shanmugam was the tournament’s 6th-top overall scorer with 112.78 PPG, and Anish Gadgil and Rohan Vora each added solid contributions as well. STEM took home several victories against the nation’s top teams, including St. John’s (TX) as well as HSNCT runners-up Hunter (NY). For a team to go from not playing pyramidal quizbowl to placing 18th at NSC in 18 months is nothing short of astonishing, and D-STEM deserves tremendous credit for putting in the hard work to make it happen.

In the final act of Alex Schmidt’s high school quizbowl career, Lehigh Valley Academy took 21st place, with a 12-6 record, while also capturing the small school championship. Alex showed his ability to buzz all over the distribution once again, finishing with a whopping 138.89 PPG. He did fall to D-STEM in an exciting 370-330 match, but recorded strong wins as well over Robinson (VA) and Georgetown Day (DC). Speaking for myself, I saw Alex’s potential in playing against him when he was a freshman and I a senior, and it has been nice to see it pay off through strong finishes like this one.

Manheim Township A finished 30th overall (12-5 record), the highest finish at NSC in school history. Many of us counted out this group at the start of the year, and they certainly proved us wrong. Seniors Bryce Katch and Dan Nguyen led the way for the Blue Streaks, but fellow senior Michael Buffa and sophomore Will Steger both contributed over 20 PPG as well. Though they took a loss to LVA, the team scored a big-time win over national powerhouse LASA A (360-280), and were one tiebreaker away from making the top bracket. An excellent end to the season for this group.

Great Valley finished in 58th place, with a 6-9 record. Sam Scarfone demonstrated his skills once again with 59.33 PPG, while Dan Chen and Mark Neri also added over 20 PPG each. GV started the day 0-5, but rebounded to win 6 of their last 10 matches, including a nice victory over past SSNCT champion AMSA (MA). Not quite the ending this squad may have been hoping for, but it has still been fun to watch them develop over the years.

After missing HSNCT due to scheduling issues, Delaware Valley claimed 62nd place (7-8 record). As has been the case for most of the year, Colin Kawan-Hemler (46.67 PPG) and Frani King (29.33 PPG) set the pace, and DV also got noteworthy efforts from two returning juniors, Emma Dove and Chris Secular. The team squeaked out a tight 250-240 win over top Kentucky team Dunbar, and also beat strong teams in Okemos (MI) and Saint Joseph (IN). Overall, a nice weekend for the class of Northeast PA.

Finally, Manheim Township B took 86th place with a 5-10 record. This young team was composed exclusively of sophomores and juniors, including lead scorers Zac Stapler and Cyril Hainthaler, who will hope to play key roles next year as Manheim Township reloads for another season. This nationals experience will likely prove quite valuable in this regard.

And with that, another year in Pennsylvania quizbowl comes to a close. It has been an exciting campaign all around, and I have greatly enjoyed following it throughout. Stay tuned for our end-of-season rankings and final discussion on the season, coming soon!

-Ryan Bilger

2018 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament Wrap-Up

The 2018 HSNCT is now in the books and we have capsule recaps for all the PA schools who attended in order of their finish. Remember: there were 352 teams at the tournament, that this tournament required qualification by finishing in the top 15% at a NAQT tournament during the year, and that there are several thousand schools out there across the U.S. who competed in quizbowl this year.

Note: One of the main statistics that will be mentioned here is “PP20TUH,” which is a way of normalizing the points scored by a player for every 20 toss-up questions heard during a round given that NAQT rounds have variable numbers of questions due to being timed (this statistic really needs a better name–suggestions welcome!)

Stats for the full tournament can be found at this link. The victors were Plano West (TX), who defeated two-time incumbent champ Hunter College High School (NY) in the final. This year marked the 20th HSNCT.

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D-STEM getting ready for a match en route to their Top 10 finish.

Downingtown STEM
Record: 12-4
Overall Finish: 8th place
Best Win(s): 425-320 over Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech A (VA) and 465-200 over Montgomery Blair A (MD)
Comments: STEM lived up to their billing at this event with two outstanding wins over national powerhouses. They finished in the top 10 for PA’s best finish since the 2011 State College team. True to form, Vishwa played high-risk, high-reward quizbowl and mostly succeeded, with 65 powers to go with 45 negs, while Anish and Rohan both added a solid 17 PP20TUH of support.

Lehigh Valley
Record: 12-3
Overall Finish: 12th place
Best Win(s): 425-340 over Hunter A (NY)
Comments: Alex Schmidt ends his NAQT playing career with a pretty incredible performance of 78 powers against only 29 negs, easily taking the individual scoring title for the tournament with 127 PP20TUH. An early loss against Hunter A may have been one of the best-played and highest-scoring games in modern HSNCT history with 910 combined points scored in the 305-605 loss. Yet again though, the old rule of national championships (at least at the high school+ level) rears its head: it’s very hard to make a deep run or win a national title without a full team and LV never quite got a supporting group to complement Alex’s skill set.

Allderdice
Record: 11-4
Overall Finish: 12th place
Best Win(s): 395-295 over Detroit Catholic Central A (MI), 380-200 over Early College at Guilford A (NC)
Comments: Allderdice has gone from a good regional PA team to one of the best in the state and region, a testament to how much hard work and studying can pay off in a relatively short amount of time (esp. from lead scorer Jamie whose 37.5 PP20TUH came from someone who hadn’t begun playing before this school year). Claiming a W over DCC A is an extraordinarily rare feat in quizbowl and though DCC eventually got its revenge in the playoffs, Allderdice may have the last laugh in the future with all of its players other than Jamie coming back. Fear the dragons next year.

Allderdice with their T-12 trophy.

State College B
Record: 8-5
Overall Finish: 51st place
Best Win(s): 230-200 over Bellarmine (CA), 285-210 over Paul Blazer (KY)
Comments: Youth triumphs over experience with State College’s freshmen and sophomores actually besting their A team’s finish. SC B also saved its best for the playoffs, winning against two veteran teams in close matches before bowing to Canyon Crest (CA)’s B team. Albert’s 53.62 PP20TUH made him far and away the best freshman in the field at the tournament and the rest of the team all made strong contributions. Although the Gittings era at State College continues to recede further into the past, the Zhang dynasty looks poised to continue its newfound prominence within the the Central PA and state circuit.

Manheim Township A
Record: 7-5
Overall Finish: 51st
Best Win(s): 280-250 over Dorman A (SC)
Comments: This year’s Township A team did a nice job of making improvements across the course of the whole season and all of its players adapted well into the trademark well-balanced, disciplined MT A team. Continuing to make the playoffs at HSNCT and picking up a win over a strong opponent is something pretty much every team in the country would like to be able to do, and this year’s MT A team kept up that tradition.

Friends Select A
Record: 7-5
Overall Finish: 77th
Best Win(s): 325-200 over East Brunswick (NJ), 345-145 over State College A
Comments: FSS A’s talented duo of Richard and Jake capped off their playing careers with a strong run to the playoffs that ended with some particularly tough matchups in the final two prelim rounds and their playoff rounds. Richard (45.45 PP20TUH) scaled particularly well to the higher difficulty of the questions but all of FSS A’s members did their parts to make the playoff run they’d been eyeing for the past few years and sending 2017-2018 PA Coach of the Year Abbi Smith off with a playoff win.

State College A
Record: 7-5
Overall Finish: 77th
Best Win(s): 295-255 over St. Joseph Central A (MO), 275-205 over Acton-Boxborough (MA)
Comments: State College A played a remarkably well-balanced roster this tournament with all its team members scoring from 18 to 25 PP20TUH and all getting their moments in the buzz. They had a very good run in the middle of the prelims, beating several strong playoff teams, but quieted down a bit on Sunday. Given the replacements available from the B team, SC A should look to be around Sunday afternoon next year as well.

Downingtown East 
Record: 7-5
Overall Finish: 77th
Best Win(s):  240-195 over Merrol Hyde (TN), 235-180 over Chanhassen (MN)
Comments: After finishing Saturday down 3-4 and needing to win their next 3 straight prelim games to make the playoffs, D-East not only did that but added a commendable playoff win as well. Despite a somewhat remarkable aversion to powers (only 5 for the whole tournament compared to 100 regular toss-ups), D-East should be proud of sending their senior-heavy team off with a win, though they will miss Jackie’s 51+ PP20TUH next year.

Henderson A
Record: 6-5
Overall Finish: 105th
Best Win(s): 360-200 over Alagar Homeschool
Comments: An impressive number of powers (39) was enough to get Henderson A into the playoffs but not enough to get them farther. This is the team’s second playoff performance in three years. A tough playoff matchup ended their tournament a bit early, but they do have the solace of leading scorer Vijay (35.5 PP20TUH) returning.

Shady Side
Record: 6-5
Overall Finish: 105th
Best Win(s): 295-285 over Princeton (NJ)
Comments: Knocking off Princeton HS to make the playoffs by 10 points is probably one of the best ways to make the playoffs, even if Shady Side’s stay in draw was short. This all-senior team was paced by Will (40 PP20TUH) and Fuad (30 PP20TUH) who got to end somewhat underrated Western PA careers on a high note.

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Players from Pennsylvania in an upcoming “How to Play Quizbowl” video that NAQT filmed on site. Friends Select, Downingtown East, State College, and Great Valley are represented.

Great Valley A
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 145th
Best Win(s): 325-220 over Hanover (NH), 270-220 over Glasgow (KY)
Comments: GV A got hit with 7 (!) playoff teams in the course of their prelim schedule including some of the inevitable unbalanced (e.g. 4-2 vs. 3-3 record) matchups and had 3 losses on the final tossup. Tough breaks for this group of seniors who cut back considerably on the negs and got a nice win over SSNCT champs Glasgow as well as keeping it very close against Clark (NV).

Alagar Homeschool
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 148th
Best Win(s): 355-260 over East Chapel Hill (NC)
Comments: The Alagars reached the heights of a 5-2 record on Saturday with wins over several playoff teams including eventual 20th-place finisher East Chapel Hill, but then crashed on Sunday, losing 3 matches in a row to finish out of the playoffs. It was always tough to place the Alagars given their relatively infrequent playing schedule, but Western PA quizbowl will lose a strong competitor and a bounty of history knowledge as all of the current Alagar players are graduating.

Penn Manor
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 150th
Best Win(s): 310-85 over Burnsville A (MN)
Comments: Penn Manor’s first return to HSNCT since their 2013 debut went about as expected, with lots of solid all-around play (and a solid 14.9 PPB) that kept them in matches but couldn’t quite put them over the hump of the playoffs. Connor’s 63.8 PP20TUH was pretty impressive scaling of knowledge to the HSNCT difficulty and will be an excellent building block to build on in future years, but the rest of his teammates also contributed both a decent number of powers (7) and a surfeit of negs (30).

Great Valley B
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 172nd
Best Win(s): 300-85 over Trinity (NY)
Comments: The youth of Great Valley look like they’re nicely prepared to step into the roles of their A team next year. There will be similar stories with many of these other B teams as none of the PA schools other than State College really had a B team as a threat to make a playoff run (this year at least).

Henderson B
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 197th place
Best Win(s): 225-50 over Chattahoochee D (GA)
Comments: This team made it to a .500 record, but had a fairly manageable schedule with which to do it against mostly 3-7 teams. With the opportunity for a marquee win against Santa Monica A that could have vaulted them into the playoffs, they weren’t able to make it happen.

Manheim Township B
Record: 5-5
Overall Finish: 207th Place
Best Win(s): 245-160 over Westview (OR)
Comments: Similar to the other B teams on this list outside of State College, MT B gained valuable hard-question and NAQT-style experience while not making too many waves. The ranks of MT A will be replenished with veterans now.

Friends Select B
Record: 4-6
Overall Finish: 226th Place
Best Win(s): 220-120 over Gate City (VA)
Comments: FSS B cleared the playing cupboard with six players all contributing on this team. Five of the six will be back next year for FSS.

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Friends Select’s departing coach, Abbi Smith, with her PA Coach of the Year award.

Northwest Penn Collegiate
Record: 4-6
Overall Finish: 229th Place
Best Win(s): 320-120 over Auburn (AL)
Comments: In a welcome return to HSNCT after many years (NWPCA attended some of the first HSNCTs ever in the late 1990s), NWPCA put in a respectable performance, actually out-powering a strong Darien A team in the first round. Their top three scorers will return next year and we’d love to see NWPCA attend some more local tournaments as well as HSNCT then.

Emmaus
Record: 4-6
Overall Finish: 254th Place
Best Win(s): 230-70 over Springfield (IL)
Comments: Plaudits to Emmaus for venturing back to HSNCT after a few years away, but they did seem to tire a bit with their PPB going down considerably in the final few preliminary rounds. More local tournament experience could prove valuable for them in future years, though they lose a good bit of their scoring including Ben (~40 PP20TUH).

Wallenpaupack
Record: 4-6
Overall Finish: 271st Place
Best Win(s): 240-155 over Kansas City (MO)
Comments: Wallenpaupack came back with distinctive purple team shirts, but their scoring was down compared to last year. They might want to work on that 9-21 Power-to-Neg ratio in the future.

Indiana Area
Record: 4-6
Overall Finish: 286th Place
Best Win(s): 165-155 over Detroit Country Day B, 195-160 over Little Cypress-Mauriceville (TX)
Comments: Vince (32 PP20TUH) and company got to cap off their HS quizbowl careers with a solid performance. They also won a close 26-TU overtime match against Detroit Country Day B, 165-155.

Lancaster Mennonite
Record: 3-7
Overall Finish: 299th Place
Best Win(s): 280-50 over Westminster B
Comments: After losing star player Brandon to graduating last year, Mennonite’s rebuilding year went about as expected, though they did this with a very young roster who should be a good platform to build on in future years.  They also succeeded in baffling the non-PA teams with their geographic location.

Armstrong
Record: 3-7
Overall Finish: 328th Place
Best Win(s): 125-100 over Pleasant Hill (MO)
Comments: Armstrong made their non-league weekend tournament debut at HSNCT and after taking some lumps in the first few rounds put together a few wins in the later rounds. We’re glad to see Armstrong coming down to HSNCT, but we also hope they can attend some more tournaments closer to home in Western PA in future years.

Jim Thorpe
Record: 2-8
Overall Finish: 334th Place
Best Win(s): 160-120 over Ezell-Harding (TN)
Comments: Jim Thorpe is one of the first of what we hope will be many more teams from the various Scholastic Scrimmage shows making the leap over to more quizbowl tournaments from the TV show, so we hope that they enjoyed their trip and will come to more tournaments.

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A group photo taken at the annual PA meetup at HSNCT- which represents only a fraction of the total number of Pennsylvanians attending the event as players, coaches, or staff.

It’s worth noting that in addition to all these teams and their many diverse achievements, the Pennsylvania community and its alumni supplied 22 staffers for this year’s HSNCT, which was just shy of 10% of the total staff on site. It’s fantastic that so many people have stayed involved with the high school game after graduating, keeping the game going from generation to generation. We encourage all Pennsylvania quizbowlers to keep the legacy going by helping out at tournaments, from local leagues to nationals, and in mentoring the next generation of players.

Overall, this tournament showed that PA teams are not only qualifying and attending more national championships, but also finishing higher as a group than ever before. 3 of the top 20 teams were from PA, which ties PA with CA and TX among states with the most schools in the top 20. There’s a lot of talent graduating this year among PA schools, but also plenty on the horizon that can step up. Out of all the PA teams, Allderdice seems best positioned to make a deep run next year as they bring back a considerable number of their top players and now have the kinds of high-level experience. But given that this year’s HSNCT champions, Plano West, came out of nowhere to topple a lot of the venerable quizbowl dynasty teams, the takeaway ought to be that any given group of four dedicated players can potentially win a national title if they study. We’re still a young circuit and have a long ways to go in continuing to reach out to more schools who don’t play quizbowl or only compete in county academic competitions, but after this year’s performance Pennsylvania won’t be able to use the underdog narrative again.

-The Staff