In this episode, Ben is joined by last year’s state champion and player of the year, Will Yaeger, to discuss the upcoming quizbowl season in Pennsylvania. What do we make of such a wide-open year?
It’s that time of year again—back to school, pumpkin spice, the inexplicable Christmas sales the day after Labor Day. That means another quizbowl season is upon us. Whether you are a long time reader and gearing up to follow the season along as a veteran or a first time player, we hope you are excited for some studying, fun facts, and high-gear Pennsylvania quizbowl matches. As always, it’s time for the AP style pre-season poll as well. Fourteen ballots were cast. Without further ado:
- Henderson (137 points, 11 first place votes)
- Friends Select (112 points, 2 first place)
- Penn Manor (107 points, 1 first place)
- State College (106 points)
- Great Valley A (82 points)
- Manheim Township (75 points)
- Winchester Thurston (48 points)
- Trinity (35 points)
- Great Valley B (31 points)
- Allderdice (27 points)
Also receiving votes were Hempfield (9) and Unionville (1)
Best wishes for all teams during the upcoming season!
The Voters in this Poll were Ryan Bilger, Jakobi Deslouches, Ben Herman, Antonio Jimenez, Ashish Kumbhardare, Sebastien La Duca, Nick Luca, Andrew Nadig, Colton Sanden, Alex Sankaran, Steven Silverman, Jack Sugrue, Adam Swift, and Will Yaeger
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.
One of the best–and somewhat daunting–things about quizbowl is that there’s always more learning to be done. There will always be a new clue to look up, a new subject to try to master, a new name to add to your study lists. Finding ways to motivate yourself and your team to keep learning these new things–particularly at times like now in the middle of summer–can be crucial to determining how the next quizbowl season will go.
A good way to get your team on the same page for the upcoming year is to decide on what your goals will be as a team. Individual improvement is great, but quizbowl is a team competition. Working as a group to encourage each other will be a much more enjoyable, if not more effective, experience than solitary studying.
What sorts of goals might a team set going into a new year? Here are a few ideas (and a few things to steer away from):
Beating a Rival Team
There is no better feeling in quizbowl than triumphing over a rival team. Such a rival could be a local geographic rival, a sports conference rival, or a team from further away that your team found annoying at a previous tournament. Either way, identifying a rival and using them as a friendly source of motivation and yardstick for improvement is a time-tested and effective way of motivating quizbowl players to improve.
Reaching Specific Points-Per-Bonus (PPB) levels
This is an easy-to-measure metric that you can track in practice and at tournaments. It’s also somewhat independent of the strength of the other teams in your area, so it can be a good way to chart your progress even if it isn’t necessarily leading to more wins immediately. Keep in mind, of course, that the target PPB will likely vary by question set, so set a reasonable goal and work to increase it over the course of the year.
Being the Best Team in your City/County/Region of the State
This is fairly self-explanatory, but is always an effective way to market your team to your administration and/or potential outside sponsors. If you don’t already have a tournament in your area to crown the best county/city/part of the state, then consider starting one. Even if it’s just a few teams competing, it can be a great way to get one’s community involved and a goal that you can set.
One goal that a lot of teams set–but which also might be tricky to translate into improvement–is making the playoffs or finishing at a certain rank at the national championships. The problem with this approach is that nationals finishes are fickle; there’s a lot of randomness depending on who you get matched up against. The last thing you want to do is finish the season not having achieved your goal due to, say, a top team getting upset in the first round of they playoffs and showing up to ruin your playoff run or getting subject to the few unbalanced matchups in the card or seeding system. Another potential goal of reaching a certain winning percentage for your team’s record for the year can lead to less-than-ideal incentives; you don’t want to make a habit of, say, attending tournaments with lots of less experienced teams simply to claim more wins.
There are also plenty of ways that your team can contribute to quizbowl and the general quest for competitive academic knowledge outside of competing. Running a tournament well, getting your neighboring schools involved in quizbowl, and simply representing your school well with notable good sportsmanship and friendliness can all be excellent goals by which to measure a successful quizbowl season.
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.
Two Pennsylvania teams, each composed of a mix of graduating seniors and returning underclassman talent, represented the state at the 2019 National All-Star Academic Tournament. Coached on-site by Jamie Faeder (Allderdice ’18), these players had a fun experience to close out the 2018-19 quizbowl season!
Pennsylvania Blue, composed of Jakobi Deslouches (Allderdice), Noah Harrigan (Great Valley), Will Yaeger (Hempfield), and Ryan Zhang (Hempfield), made the top playoff bracket by way of a thrilling tiebreaker victory over Missouri A that came down to the final tossup. They also notched wins over Maryland Gold, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. While the team did not score any additional victories in that top playoff bracket, I give them all the credit nonetheless for making it there, as NASAT is a tournament unlike any other at the high school level. Congrats to PA Blue!
Pennsylvania Gold, composed of Austin Davis (Allderdice), Connor Mayers (Penn Manor), Anshu Nunemunthala (Great Valley), and Malaika Paralkar (Downingtown East) defeated Iowa in the preliminary rounds for their sole win on Saturday. However, they ended the tournament strong, with consecutive victories over Oklahoma, Connecticut, and Missouri B. Connor also finished as the 10th top individual scorer in the prelim rounds and 9th after all games. Congrats to him and to PA Gold as well!
With the end of this tournament, our exciting 2018-19 season of quizbowl in Pennsylvania has reached its conclusion. We’ve seen plenty of great players, great matches, and great stories this year, and it looks as though we are poised for another exciting season to come! Have a safe, fun, and knowledge-filled summer, and we hope to see you back for our coverage of the 2019-2020 year!
This is an announcement of two changes to our writing staff for the upcoming offseason and season:
- Emily Dickson has resigned from GPQB. We thank her for her work with the site and wish her the best in future endeavors.
- Chris Chiego has returned from sabbatical and will be active on site posts for the 2019-2020 season.
In this poll, Ben goes through the poll order before handing it off to a team of experts for analysis. Why did Hempfield win the title? Who over and under achieved? What’s next?
Another wonderful season of quizbowl has come to a close. This one was filled with so many stories and close games, it is hard to recount them all. We had some of the toughest competition out there yet, and almost every program came home with a win or three they’ll treasure forever. As is always the case, we close the season with our end of season poll, and crown the official GPQB State Champion. All of these teams deserve praise for their hard work and excellent knowledge over the season. Unless specified (and you’ll need to pay attention to some footnotes here), these teams are the “A” team for their school. Without further ado, here is the last poll of the 18-19 season:
- Hempfield (190 points, +6, unanimous #1)
- Henderson (166 points, +2)
- Allderdice A (148 points, -2)
- Friends Select (138 points, +4)
- State College (107 points, -3)
- Penn Manor (100 points, -1)
- Manheim Township (78 points, -1)
- Great Valley A* (46 points, +3)
- Winchester Thurston (38 points, +7)
- Great Valley B* (17 points, -7)
Also receiving votes were Allderdice B (16) and Trinity (1)
Congratulations to state champions, Hempfield High School! We hope all Pennsylvania quizbowl teams had tons of fun this year at whatever events they played, and that they learned a lot and built great friendships along the way. We wish all seniors the best in their next step, and look forward to seeing underclassmen again buzzing away this fall. Happy summer!
* The team we have ranked 8th played as Great Valley’s B team the whole year. Based on their performance at nationals, the collective panelists ranked them higher than their school’s A team. It is our polling philosophy that a “B” team cannot be better than an “A” team, for if so they have then surpassed and become their school’s A team. Therefore, we have labeled them as we did for this poll.
The Voters for this poll were: Sameer Apte, Ruel Beresford, Ryan Bilger, Ben Cushing, Chris Chiego, Jack Edmondson, Jamie Faeder, Ben Herman, Antonio Jimenez, Ashish Kumbhardare, Sebastien La Duca, Nick Luca, Andrew Nadig, Colton Sanden, Alex Sankaran, Steven Silverman, Adam Swift, and Jackie Wu
On behalf of the PA NASAT committee, we are happy to announce the selections for this year’s National All-Star Scholastic Tournament, to be held this June 22-23 at the University of Kentucky. NASAT pits teams consisting of the best players from each state against each other in a head-to-head setting. The event uses difficult collegiate questions and many of its players have gone on to outstanding careers in collegiate and higher level quizbowl. This is the only all-star tournament to highlight teams on a state-by-state basis.
After participating in a tryout process, team candidates were selected based on their statistics by a panel of college players and staffers in the state. Without further ado:
Jakobi Deslouches, Allderdice
Noah Harrigan, Great Valley
Rishi Raman, Great Valley
Will Yaeger, Hempfield
Albert Zhang, State College
Austin Davis, Allderdice
Connor Mayers, Penn Manor
Anshu Nunemunthala, Great Valley
Malaika Paralkar, Downingtown East
Ryan Zhang, Hempfield
We congratulate all these excellent quizbowlers for their fantastic specialist knowledge during tryouts and commend the hard work put in by the students and their coaches, teachers, parents, and mentors. We look forward to cheering on team PA in Lexington, KY later this month!