Today marks the third anniversary of the founding of GPQB. When the site was created in 2014, only about 30 teams were playing pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania; however, in the 2016-17 season, 81 Pennsylvania teams participated in at least one Saturday invitational, with several more playing in pyramidal leagues. Over 20 PA schools also attended either SSNCT or HSNCT in 2017. The following is an interview with Ben Herman (BH) and Chris Chiego (CC), GPQB’s co-founders and current editors.
JW: What was the state of pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania at the time you founded GPQB?
BH: In 2014, pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania was very scattered. People were mostly just focused on their local league and trying to win their area, and they weren’t really thinking about the bigger picture of the state or nationals.
CC: When I first arrived at Penn, there was not a single team from the actual Philadelphia area at our yearly high school tournament (QuAC), except for maybe Central Bucks East and Henderson. It was kind of shocking to come from some fairly developed quizbowl areas in California and Georgia and Tennessee even, and to go to a place where it just seemed like nobody was talking to each other. At the time, it was just a very weird set of teams where you had really experienced out-of-state schools coming in and beating up the Pennsylvania teams, with maybe a few exceptions.
CM: So, Chris, you touched on this a little bit already, talking about the circuits you came from in Georgia and in California. What other outreach efforts had you done prior to founding the site?
CC: In undergrad, I mostly focused on playing quizbowl and trying to hold together a college team, which is a whole lot of work in itself. But I had done work in southern California, which consisted of trying to flip teams from a bad TV quizbowl league to good questions and more tournaments, and we had some success. We definitely made inroads, and a few years after I left, they finally voted to change a couple leagues over to pyramidal questions. Then in Memphis, I was a coach actually, and I spent a whole year trying to work with other coaches in the area to make those tournaments pyramidal. But as soon as I left, everything went back to bad questions. So I’ve definitely had some mixed results. I was determined, when I got to Pennsylvania, that hopefully we’d be able to learn from the mistakes of the past, and it helped that Ben had a lot of local knowledge that really helped jumpstart that.
BH: Being an undergrad at the time, in a similar way to Chris’s experience, I was mostly focused on playing quizbowl, up until about six months to a year before GPQB started. Basically I was really burned out on playing at the time, so I was looking for other things to do with the game because I still had some passion for it. And really beginning with the invitation to go help out Ron McColl and the Phoenixville team at their tournament in 2013, I started helping local coaches along with Bill Tressler, helping them get information and pointing them towards the forums, and I think it just kind of grew from there. When Chris arrived, we started talking about it, and we started making some plans about how we were going to reach out to teams and so on.
JW: You guys both mentioned how you were busy in college, especially undergrad, with playing quizbowl. Which have you preferred more, playing quizbowl or doing outreach, and why?
BH: Doing outreach. It’s really not even close for me. Playing was fun, but it was always—you never felt like you were good enough, and I think a lot of intelligent people tend to fall into that trap. That really beat me up by the time I was done playing. With outreach, it’s always something casual, it’s never something I feel like I have to do. It’s great to meet new people and be involved with that social environment of quizbowl while also helping to spread it around and helping kids discover what they want out of quizbowl, whether it’s playing, writing, or outreach, or just having fun.
CC: I really did enjoy playing, and I think that’s what led me to really want to do outreach. The longer I played, the more I wanted to expand this to more people, because I never really got a chance to play in high school since my high school unfortunately only played nonpyramidal local TV tournament things. But again, I think once anyone’s done with playing, or if you’re just graduating (if anyone in quizbowl actually graduates these days), outreach is a great way to put the rest of your time towards introducing this game to other people. And as Ben said, you can do it as much or as little as you want. You can just get a chance to talk to people about quizbowl, and it can be a part of your social life in some ways, meeting with coaches and other players. It’s a neat way to keep involved with the circuit without the same stresses of studying.
CM: What changes to the quizbowl community do you think your site has helped accomplish, and what do you hope to further accomplish?
CC: Well, we do see who comes to the GPQB website, and it’s from all over Pennsylvania and across the country. It’s really neat to see how many times we get hits from new areas and then a few weeks later, we’ll hear from a new person interested in starting a team there. GPQB’s useful as a website that explains what’s going on, goes through some of the lingo, and keeps track of all the tournaments in the area, though we actually get a lot of people from outside of Pennsylvania who come in and learn from some of the podcasts and other advice posts and interviews we’ve had in the past, too.
BH: Along similar lines, quizbowl has the reputation of being something that’s kind of opaque to a newcomer, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I think the website has provided a place where new people, who maybe want to know more about pyramidal quizbowl, can go. I think what this site really accomplishes is being a landing pad where people can go to learn more about quizbowl, to wade their way in and start to know where they might want to go with it.
JW: What are some of the things that made the outreach in Pennsylvania especially successful and how can those things be replicated in other parts of the country?
BH: In terms of the strategies we’ve used, we’ve used a lot of personal connections, and working with the coaches rather than exclusively other quizbowl people. We can use coaches’ contacts through teaching at high schools and through playing in leagues to help sell quizbowl. Rather than doing it from the top down, Pennsylvania’s outreach has been a lot more from the bottom up, and that’s been a big reason why we’ve been successful. It definitely helps to have people who are familiar with the game to move things along, but I think you need to work heavily with high school coaches and not rely on university players to do that kind of outreach push.
CC: The key thing here in Pennsylvania that’s unique is that it’s the players, the coaches, college programs—all of them have gotten really on board with outreach. Having people at most of the major universities in Pennsylvania is a great way to amplify outreach, to get new people in, to keep old high school players involved. I also like that we do have a lot of rural involvement, because in so many other places, it’s just a few suburban areas for the most part and not really involved outside the main metro areas. I think some of the history of Scholastic Scrimmage and other TV shows has led to a legacy of quizbowl in many parts of the state. I hope this can be a model for other parts of the country to follow in the future—I think we’re on the right track to get the majority of schools in the state playing quizbowl.
CM: Where do you see Pennsylvania in the quizbowl community now, and where do you expect to see it go in the near future?
CC: If I were doing my state of good quizbowl ratings, which I might finish up at some point, I think Pennsylvania’s at least a B now. We’re in the upper tier in terms of success, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. We’ve improved the quality of teams throughout the area and we’ve done a good job in some areas of getting more schools involved, but I think we still lack some of the national credibility. We get some teams to the New Jersey tournaments and such, but it’d be neat to see Pennsylvania teams traveling more like Ithaca from New York has, or how Hunter or some of the other big schools do as well. It helps spread the Pennsylvania brand elsewhere, down towards DC, towards Ohio, in the Youngstown area and such like that. Some solid NASAT finishes are good for that as well. It’s good right now, but I think that there’s still some room for improvement here in the future.
BH: I remember playing as a Pennsylvania high school team in New Jersey and in Delaware in 2009 and 2010, and back then, we were basically treated like dirt by those teams, to be frank. They would laugh at us when we, you know, couldn’t pull a 20 on what would be called canonical bonuses and such. I agree with Chris that we’re not at the top, we’re certainly not in the realms of New Jersey and New York or Illinois, and that’s largely because we have not regularly produced multiple top 50 schools in one year for several years yet, but I think people are starting to consider Pennsylvania when they talk about the national scene. We’ve come a long way and there’s a long way to go, but considering where we started, I’m very happy with how the state has advanced in the last few years.
Thanks to Ben and Chris for answering our questions, and a huge thank you to our readers for supporting the growth of Pennsylvania quizbowl!
-Connor and Jackie