A Defense of Regionalism in High School Quizbowl

Recently, on the hsqb forums, in a post titled “Does Every Quizbowl Organization Need its Own Blog?,” the topic of integrating all of the various places where quizbowl is written about online, from press and blog posts from major national organizations at the college and high school level, to regional sites such as our own, into one place or one feed, was proposed. I weighed in as a skeptic of this in regard to regional organizations/websites such as GPQB. This got me thinking about trying to articulate exactly why high school quizbowl needs regionalism. I can think of four major reasons, and I think each speaks to some aspect of the challenges high school quizbowl faces with outreach and expansion, both here in Pennsylvania and in other places like it.

The Need for Localized Coverage 

To expand quizbowl, teams need to know what is out there in terms of the vast resources, which centralization of writing and activity might, theoretically, make easier. However, on that large a scale, inevitably there would be an emphasis on things with maximum appeal to a uniform, nationalized quizbowl audience. That means lots of studying tips and lots of “how do I adjust to X situation,” written on terms for insiders already familiar with the game. In such a market, there is little to no room for coverage of local stories and local concerns. You may or may not have noticed, but our company line at GPQB is to mention every team appearing at every tournament in Pennsylvania, even if just as a shout out, throughout the year as we do our wrap ups. Teams like to be noticed, and like to feel welcome. This takes time and energy, and trying to add these local touches would be washed out in a situation like a unified site. Only top teams nationally would get any sort of individual coverage. Having correspondents and articles attached to local circuits will allow teams to know where to go to see how they’re doing, and to view the compliments that come with that. It serves no purpose for teams that are more casual to wade through muddles of coverage irrelevant to them to check on their own accomplishments.

Making Meaningful Rankings

There’s been an epidemic of rankings and statistical ranking formulas in the world of quizbowl recently- best player at X, best players in Y, etc. This originates, in part, from 20 years of the internet and increased social media activity by people in and around quizbowl, leading to elite high school programs all knowing each other and interacting with another regularly. That has lots of positives; but one area it doesn’t is catching local circuits accurately when teams, particularly new or rising teams, are not integrated into those channels. Teams players are unfamiliar with will inevitably reduced to statistics, and to put it simply, quizbowl statistics are highly meaningless at a macro scale and undeveloped. Trying to compare teams from drastically different circuits with different field strengths, opportunities to play, and in a few cases even rules have led to considerably inaccurate placements of teams’ abilities, like this pre-national statistical ranking placing Henderson, the #2 team in Pennsylvania by year’s end, at 147th nationally (before they finished t12th).

This is where local sites come in. Our Pennsylvania panelists look closely at our teams and are able to do more than simply compare points per bonus and arbitrary power adjustments. Most of us actively staff PA events and can eye test the teams: how do they handle pressure? Do they communicate on bonuses? Even those of us that have moved away follow the tournaments regularly and can consider things like head to head record. This allows for much better polls, and gives a lot of teams recognition they otherwise would not. We should acknowledge that there is still a large east-west divide in Pennsylvania, as both teams and staffers don’t always get the chance to cross the Susquehanna regularly. The advent of Penn State’s Keystone State Invitational this season went a long way towards fixing that, and hopefully as more teams in central PA join the circuit, there will be ever-more common links.

Appropriate Attention to Audience

Simply put, the average quizbowl team in America doesn’t care about theory or your latest quizbowl cause célèbre. Should there be more world literature? Should there be less pop culture? Is asking about something too easy or to hard? Most teams don’t care. I’m as guilty of worrying about this minutia as anyone. To quote PA quizbowl veteran Andrew Nadig, “most people here [at quizbowl nationals] would play quizbowl in a box, with a fox, in a boat, with a goat.” The majority of quizbowlers don’t necessarily commit that much. Most teams don’t need a big feed to see pontifications coming from collegiate quizbowlers, or what’s happening halfway across America. What they need and want is simple tips to help them improve, perhaps a basic primer or two on the rules, and coverage of their stories and matters of local relevance. Simply put, for your average quizbowl player, one doesn’t *need* the reams of writing going on about quizbowl, and simpler is better. As they become more integrated, they inevitably seek out the more advanced stuff on their own, without prompting. They’re sharp kids. I’ve seen it time and again.

Local vs. National Community Building

Lastly, branding individual circuits as communities is crucial to building camaraderie and common goals. GPQB’s biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, has not been providing resources (though that’s also a proud point for us), but in forging a sense of “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” as a distinct group of people where no sense of it existed before. We support one another, fight together to reform unfair local formats, and have built strong local support to help new teams join the community as well. Part of the reason our tournaments now run on time and our teams are playing more and better quizbowl is because they enjoy being part of “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” and upholding the standards and practices that go along with it. This would inevitably be lost if people’s go-to place was a nationwide catch-all. It should be noted there certainly is a community of top high school players nationally as well, and the barriers to breaking into it are much more opaque to newcomers. Getting noticed at that level also usually means elite play- and elite play should never be a prerequisite for having a major voice at the table.

In sum, Pennsylvania quizbowl as a thriving community is in large part because of its autonomy from wider quizbowl, and the ability to serve local needs, mention and reach out to local teams, make better local rankings, and build a localized sense of solidarity. When I look at other circuits that have a great deal of engagement from a wide variety of schools instead of an elite upper crust, such as Missouri, Ohio, and Alabama, one can see similar websites or organizations at play; in regions where this is not the case, a few elite teams dominate. In this opinion, regionalism and de-centralization are healthy for the high school game.

-Ben 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s