This month’s interview is with Lily Zhang (LZ), a senior at State College Area High School. She has been the president of their quizbowl club for two years and is currently the captain of their A team.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
JW: What was State College quizbowl like when you first joined?
LZ: I think State College was in somewhat of an awkward place when I joined because we had a really great coach and a really great team a few years past, which was Julie Gittings and Graham Moyer and them. Then after they left, we still had a bunch of really great players that kept the club going, but practices eventually became reading questions for the most experienced players. I remember coming to my first practice and being overwhelmed because it was basically just reading questions, and we had some really outstanding players. My first year of quizbowl, I didn’t really answer any questions at all. Some other freshmen and I would just sit in the back and watch as the really accomplished people got questions.
JW: How do you make your club more inclusive to newcomers?
LZ: In tenth grade I started doing this thing where I would take the newcomers to a separate practice room. At first, we just read questions, but then eventually, I got to know them better, and I would think of different activities that we could do to help them, to help raise them to this standard where reading questions was a productive form of practice. Just recognizing the struggles of newcomers, recognizing that they’re there and paying attention to them, I think, is really important.
JW: What are some of those activities that you do in practice?
LZ: One thing that I started doing this year was, after each practice, the next practice we’ll do a Kahoot on the different topics covered in a packet we read last time. I think the most important thing with newcomers is making them feel like they’re making progress, so they can feel, like, a sense of accomplishment. That’s the most frustrating thing if you don’t feel like you’re making progress. When we play games like Kahoot, it’s really fun for them because they’re really competitive about it, but they can actually see results from paying attention during practice or studying things on their own time. Another thing I started doing this year is, each week we have a category competition thing. I let the newcomers make their own teams, so each team sends one person to compete in a category. For example, last week we had ballets—no, bodies of water. I think that’s also a really great way to get them to make noticeable steady progress, because we pick narrow topics that are really easy to study, so then they can feel good when they get questions. Before the Penn State Novice tournament, we had two of those [category competitions] on like Russian literature and organs, and whenever those things came up it would be a really proud moment for everyone because they’d be like “wow, I studied this!”
JW: How do you recruit new players?
LZ: A lot of it still has to do with knowing people, because generally, at least in State College, people in quizbowl will know younger kids. Certain clubs at the middle school level also serve as good places to recruit. For example, we usually get the Mathcounts kids in the beginning. And if we make the club fun, then the freshmen will recommend that the incoming freshmen join, which is nice. We also have an activities fair in the beginning of the year, so that usually gets a few signups. Recently, just last year, the middle schools here made teams, so that makes recruiting a lot easier for us because there’s already that middle school participation.
JW: What’s the most important part of being the leader of a team?
LZ: I think the most important part of leading quizbowl is just being in touch with everyone. At least, I think that being the leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the best person at quizbowl, but it means that you’re really invested in quizbowl outside of just how you perform and how your team performs. Something I feel has helped me is just letting loose and having fun with the younger members and not putting yourself above them. Also, just being able to laugh with them and relate with them really helps, because a lot more mutual respect comes that way.
JW: What do you see in the future for your club?
LZ: That’s something I’m pretty nervous about actually, because this is my last year at State High. Our club is very player-focused. Our coaches are more like advisors, and they support us, but it’s really up to the captains or presidents to determine the course of where the club goes. Hopefully our club only continues to grow, and I think that will happen. Over the past few years we have grown a lot—we’ve like doubled in size. And If I do end up going to college nearby, I’ll probably continue coaching at the club. I definitely see State College rising again in the PA scene, because I think we have a lot more potential and a strong membership.
Thank you to Lily for participating in this interview!