With the start of the 2019-2020 quizbowl competition season, a large number of recent high school graduates and former high school players will be headed to college. In PA, there are currently active quizbowl teams at only a handful of colleges in the state: CMU, Pitt, Penn State, Gettysburg, Swarthmore, and Penn (West Chester is also partially active). All of these college teams are key to the high school quizbowl circuit as most of them host high school tournaments throughout the year, provide a pool of moderators for other tournaments, and strengthen connections to additional high school teams around the state.
Yet there are many other colleges in Pennsylvania (and around the country) that lack active college quizbowl teams. We thus present a brief guide to starting a new college quizbowl team for any interested students (NAQT also has a NAQT-centric guide to starting a college team as well that might be useful):
[Note: If anyone at a college in Pennsylvania without a quizbowl team is reading this, there are Collegiate Novice Tournaments scheduled for September 21st at Carnegie Mellon University and October 26th at Swarthmore College. Contact the hosts for more info; we’re all happy to help new teams get started.]
- Get a group of interested students.
To start an official student organization, most colleges require that you have a certain number of interested individuals to register. Even if you want to try college quizbowl informally first before starting an official team, you’ll likely need to find other players. Here are some ways to recruit them:a. Check the entering Freshman contact lists on NAQT’s website as a start, but also use word-of-mouth and intra-college Facebook groups (or things like your school’s subreddit) to identify individuals who might be interested in playing quizbowl at your school. Be sure to use local equivalents for “quizbowl” like “Academic Challenge” or “Scholars Bowl” or whatever else it might be called in your area.
b. Get on some listservs. Most colleges have student activity listservs that announce various activities and events that you can use, but you should also consider Honors College/Program listservs and even departmental listservs if you can get them.
c. Post fliers around campus advertising quizbowl. It helps to have clear contact information on the flier (set up a Gmail address for your team if you don’t want to use your own) and advertise for a specific event like an “interest meeting” with a specific date and time if possible. See if you can schedule and advertise a couple of these initial practices/interest meetings early on so that you can maximize the amount of interest for new players.
d. Ask local high school coaches about their alumni who might have ended up at your college. This could be a good way to not only make contacts within the local HS quizbowl community but also to identify some potential players who might be overlooked.
- Get Plugged-In to the College Quizbowl Community.
a. Find the contact info for nearby college teams either by searching online or contacting NAQT. You should introduce yourself to other teams in the area and find out generally when and where the tournaments for the upcoming season will be held so that you can start planning out a schedule of tournaments and so that you will be included on future emails. These other teams can also serve as valuable sources of advice and guidance (as well as friendship!), so don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions about how things work.b. Venture onto the quizbowl forums and Discord. There’s tons of information and many examples of past new teams and players asking for advice on these.
c. Read up on the resources online. There are plenty of instructional resources to help teams get better; you should share these with the other members of your team and perhaps even read through them together.
- Get Official.
Now that you have a group of interested people and have an idea of what tournaments you might want to attend, you should make sure you’re an official student organization at your school. This will bring a host of benefits, including funding, but also making it easier for other interested players to find your group and for being legally able to reserve rooms and other things on campus. The major hoops to becoming an official organization vary across colleges, but they’re usually some form of:
a) Show up to required meetings for organizations;
b) Complete any required online workshops;
c) write a constitution or other organizing document.
*Keep in mind that some schools may have very narrow date windows in which you must register as a student organization each year; look up these dates and plan accordingly.*
Some schools may also require that you have a faculty or full-time staff member as an advisor. Some schools will provide this advisor for you while others will require you to find this person yourself. This is where asking around for any faculty who enjoy trivia, appeared on Jeopardy!, played quizbowl themselves in college, etc. would be quite useful. It may take some time to find a person like this, but if you do get a dedicated advisor that can be very helpful in ensuring the long-term survival of your team and in dealing with the college or university administration.
- Get Practicing.
Every quizbowl team in the country is based around weekly practices, sometimes one but often two times a week. You need to secure a location that you can reliably use for practices (which is why it helps to be an official student organization) and ideally a buzzer set to use to practice with. Here’s a good overview of the available types of buzzer systems; it’s worth getting one as soon as you can. Your school may have a buzzer set (or two) lying around somewhere, so ask the student activities people and keep an eye out for them on campus. Make sure that practices are efficient (don’t waste time not doing quizbowl things at them) and regular (be sure to update the advertisements of when you practice on Facebook, listservs, fliers, etc.). You want to make sure people who are interested in quizbowl know where to go to find the team. You also want to make sure that new people who wander in to a practice feel like your team is both organized and open to new people.
- Get Funding.
Some schools will require you to have existed for a year to get some types of funds. Others may give you one-time appropriations of funds on a case-by-case basis. It differs at every school, so check your own rules. One thing that you can do though is check for multiple sources beyond just your school’s Student Activities fund. There may also be Honors Colleges/Programs willing to sponsor a team as well as specific funds from administrators like the Provost for special events. Ask around and keep looking–you never know what you might find.
- Get to Tournaments.
One mistake that new teams often make is thinking that they need to keep practicing before going to events. Since a lot of improvement at quizbowl comes through more experience on the buzzer, competing against other teams, and listening to questions, by not going to tournaments you actually make it harder to improve. Just go! Find a nearby tournament of appropriate difficulty, come in with low expectations, and enjoy the event. Quizbowl roadtrips can be a blast by themselves, especially in college.As far as appropriate difficulty goes, you can usually get an idea of how difficult a given tournament might be by reading through past iterations of that tournament or looking at posts about that tournament on the forums. In general, the tournaments most accessible and appropriate for new collegiate teams are NAQT Collegiate Novice, ACF Fall, NAQT DII SCT, and the Spring Novice tournament (that goes by various names each year). Other tournaments–even those labeled “regular-difficulty”–may be quite challenging for new teams, so plan accordingly.
- Get Ready for the Future.
Be constantly thinking about what your team will look like next year. You will (hopefully!) graduate within a few years, so make sure that you are seeking out new players to join the team and keep it going every semester. You also want to make sure that people have experience expanding their leadership skills, not only in playing but also in the basic logistics of running a team. One potential practice is to basically assign everyone who wants an officer position an officer position suited to their interests.