Interview

Downingtown STEM Interview

Today’s interview is with Vishwa Shanmugam (VS), Rohan Vora, (RV), and Anish Gadgil (AG), three members of the Downingtown STEM Academy team that finished T-8 at the 2018 NAQT HSNCT and 18th at the 2018 PACE NSC. They ended the season ranked #1 in Pennsylvania.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JW: How did you first get into playing quizbowl?

VS: Last year, we were contacted to play the Downingtown East Invitational. So we went there, did that, had a pretty good time, and then we discovered there were quizbowl forums. We signed up for Great Valley’s tournament the next month, and then Wissahickon, and ever since we’ve just played whatever we could. I had previously found NAQT’s website and Protobowl and stuff linked on our academic team study website, but we didn’t do anything with that—I had kind of assumed that NAQT was only for certain areas and our area just didn’t have anything.

RV: I remember we actually used to practice on NAQT pyramidal stuff, which wasn’t anything like the CCIU competition. It’s funny because every time we got to the bonuses packet we’d have no idea what to do, so we’d just skip those.

JW: What are the biggest differences between playing in your local academic competition and pyramidal quizbowl tournaments?

AG: Well, I think with the local format—they are speedchecks and there are three teams up against each other, so there isn’t really any cohesive strategy involved in playing them. There’s pretty much an element of randomness and luck. The biggest difference is that, flipping to pyramidal, you can actually begin to think critically about games, beyond just knowledge, about how to organize yourselves.

RV: And to take it in a bit of a different direction, I feel like through pyramidal, we were able to connect with many more people and make much more close friends, because pyramidal to me is more born out of passion for the game, and we basically just connect much more easily with the sort of people who are very much into this. You’d think the local competition would be more conducive to making friends, but we actually found that a lot of people were just playing that out of obligation.

VS: Yeah, and the quizbowl Facebook groups are all pretty active; people are really into that sort of stuff. Actual quizbowl tournaments are just more fun, like people are having more of a good time.

JW: How have you gotten involved in the quizbowl community and what is something you want people to know about it?

VS: The thing that people yell a lot about is insularity, but it’s also like, you can talk to people even if you’re not some 200 PPG star player. There’s definitely the [Illinois Quizbowl Memes] Facebook page, where you can just connect with random people, and the Quizpolling page, where there’s a lot of wholesome threads where you can just chill and talk to people.

AG: If you’re new to the community, and you’re maybe not like super duper good right off the bat, and you have a lot of inhibitions, it can be a little bit difficult—but people are nice and really approachable. Once you can get past that single barrier of inhibition when it comes to interacting with people in the community—I think that kinda just comes with time—then you’ll find it a lot easier to interact with the community at large.

RV: I’ve found that top players and very important community figures are a lot more approachable in quizbowl than in any other activity. Like, on the Pennsylvania Discord, for example, there could be some high schoolers just casually talking about Dragon Ball Z with Eric Mukherjee, who’s like this legendary player—you know, just stuff like that.

JW: What are some tips you would give to students in nonpyramidal local leagues who are interested in trying good quizbowl?

VS: Definitely check out what’s near you, and if there’s something near you, that’s always a great place to start.

AG: And if your program doesn’t already have a history of pyramidal quizbowl and you’re interested in doing that, try to incorporate more and more pyramidal elements in practices, try to encourage your memberships to grow larger, and push people towards going to tournaments and building a program that can support you throughout your pyramidal journey. Housekeeping in general is very important in addition to linking up with the community.

VS: It’s pretty easy to get your coaches to switch to practicing on pyramidal questions, because they’re often on similar material to nonpyramidal questions. And you can integrate it into your normal practice schedule.

RV: The great thing about pyramidal quizbowl is that it does rewards studying—and not only that, it’s worth studying for it. I personally found quizbowl much more enjoyable when I started studying for it, because I felt that my knowledge was being rewarded.

JW: How did you motivate yourselves to study so hard?*

VS: A lot of it was I realized I had started pyramidal in eleventh grade and I was like “wow, I have one year left of high school pyramidal quizbowl,” so I just spent a lot of my summer studying. I found that I really enjoyed reading packets—I’d find ways to read packets and look up stuff on Wikipedia on my laptop during school, as opposed to going home and having a rigorous three hour schedule or whatever.

AG: I would say that my experience is probably a little different from his, because on a personal level, I wasn’t really all that motivated to study until recently. The biggest thing for me was osmosis, because I was on a team that was gradually becoming more competitive and, being dragged into these upper echelons of quizbowl, I was being forced to scale up. In a weird way, the feeling of being left behind was a really big impetus to growing as a player.

RV: Through quizbowl, I ended up finding new interests, which helped me—that’s how I ended up studying, actually. Before quizbowl, I wasn’t somebody who was hugely into classical music, but since I acted as kind of an arts specialist for the team, I basically became a lot more into visual arts and compositional music and that sort of thing.

VS: I found I remembered that I really liked reading books, since I hadn’t done that for a few years before discovering quizbowl. I also tried to study in ways I enjoyed; I held off on the carding for a while, until I got to nats season, because carding isn’t something I can internally motivate myself to do.

JW: What was your study schedule like?*

VS: I really just didn’t have one. I read packets whenever I felt like it, I fell into random Wikipedia holes, and occasionally I picked up a book when I could motivate myself to. I don’t think you need a strict study schedule to be good, but if you’re one of the people who won’t study unless you have a schedule, maybe that helps.

AG: My motivation kinda fluctuated throughout the season, and unlike Rohan and Vishwa, I was a junior, so I had a lot of school-related deadlines close to nats season. So, as for me, as I couldn’t find time to make a regimented study schedule, so I incorporated studying in whatever ways I could. In general, I think that if you find something that’s conducive to your quizbowl personality and your schedule, there are many ways you can ensure consistent improvement.

RV: I’d read whenever I had time in school or at home, and if I was motivated to study I would read arts questions and arts content, and later if it came to my mind, I’d read into it more and look it up. I just tried to make quizbowl a part of my life, and that was my studying.

JW: What are your study tips for learning and remembering literature?*

VS: I think that it’s really worthwhile to read a lot of the short stuff. The time versus efficiency tradeoff on reading a summary of a poem versus reading the poem is kind of low. I definitely encourage you to read a lot of the stuff you can get through in one day—like, read a lot of plays and short stories. For remembering stuff, carding definitely helps if you’re a person like me that’s bad at character names or bad at obscure titles. But reading is the best way to get plot details, or using Sparknotes, or what have you.

JW: You played out of state quite a bit during the season—what do you think are the benefits of doing so?

RV: We got to go to this really nice Middle Eastern place in New Jersey, we don’t have that here.

AG: The biggest benefit for playing out of state is that certain tournaments become nexuses for highly competitive teams to go to. It’s very important to consider your team’s goals and motivations for doing so—if you are a team that is highly motivated to getting into higher levels of play, then it can be highly advantageous.

VS: I’ll go the less nerd response and say, it’s also just really fun to meet people outside your circuit. Like, it’s cool to see fresh faces, and some of my best friends are from adjacent circuits that don’t come to PA tournaments very often. If you do go out of circuit, you should bring snacks and give them to people and then they’ll be your friends.

JW: From the past season, is there any specific victory you’re especially proud of?

RV: There were a few games at the nationals and pre-nationals tournaments where all three of us had pretty significant scoring in a close game.

VS: Hunter was like that, I think we all got at least two buzzes against them and we won by a tossup at BEST.

AG: I think our game against BGA at HSNCT was somewhat similar.

VS: On a team level, beating TJ was a really nice achievement. It was a good experience to see us meshing together as a team and putting in the work to beat good teams.

JW: Do you have any memorable team moments or favorite stories you’d like to share?

RV: I don’t even know where to start. The three of us have so many memories of having political discussions, or making jokes, or car rides going to or from tournaments, or being at tournaments—there’s just so much silly stuff that’s happened over the years. In our match versus Hunter at BEST, they got an early lead on us and we were coming back. With just a few tossups to go, Chloe (from Hunter) called a timeout, and Vishwa and Anish and I went to the other side of the room. Vishwa’s leaning on this AC unit, and in the middle of discussing our strategy, Vishwa’s just like “hey I look really cool leaning on this radiator, don’t I?” and then we won the game. There’s so much really weird stuff going on like that. He didn’t even look that cool, but we won.

VS: The context was they were having this really serious discussion and I was like, wow, I want this to be a little more fun than that. Speaking of the car rides, we always listened to “Sofia” by Alvaro Soler.

AG: We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but “Sofia” being a good song, that’s one commonality we have.

JW: Anish, what are your goals for next year’s STEM team?

AG: Rebuilding is going to prove to be a formidable challenge. But it’s not entirely bad; it’s sort of cliche but in many ways it is kind of a new beginning, and an opportunity for me to leave my mark and have us grow something at D-STEM. Results at nationals and whatnot are important and nice, and of course I’m not going to let that down, but I am going to try to focus on making quizbowl have a presence at our school amongst extracurriculars and turning D-STEM into a school that can consistently produce strong teams.

JW: Rohan and Vishwa, do you intend to continue playing and/or being involved with quizbowl in the future?

RV: I will continue to play quizbowl, and hopefully to do some outreach and some moderating; I do want to try to staff some Pennsylvania tournaments if I can. And I definitely want to be involved with New York City’s tournament circuit as well, to try and improve those to the standards we have in Pennsylvania.

VS: Same. A couple of Maryland people have talked to me about doing stuff with It’s Academic, which is like the local league version of Maryland’s nonpyramidal quizbowl. I’m also trying to help write and edit more stuff, so I’m writing for Terrapin this year and I’m editing for RMBAT. I’m also definitely going to play.

JW: Is there anything else you guys would like to add?

VS: I looked really cool leaning on that radiator. Don’t let Rohan lie to you about that.

AG: As a more serious statement, we’ve been playing for the better part of the last year and a half, and honestly I’ve had a blast. We’ve come together really close as a team and we’re forever indebted and in gratitude to the Pennsylvania circuit for making these things possible for us.

RV: I’m glad to have teamed with the two of you, and I don’t know if the same sort of chemistry could have happened with anyone else at STEM, or anyone else I know in quizbowl for that matter. I’m really happy with how our time as a quizbowl team has turned out, and I also do want to thank Pennsylvania quizbowl for helping to make us into a team that’s involved in quizbowl. And you guys can bet D-STEM quizbowl isn’t going anywhere; Downingtown STEM’s team is around here to stay. And I think that they’ll always be strong.

VS: Thanks, Franklin Mint! But really, big thanks to GPQB; we probably wouldn’t be playing quizbowl if we weren’t invited to Downingtown East’s tournament and if we didn’t find out about everything afterwards. It’s been a fun two years.

Thanks to Vishwa, Rohan, and Anish for participating in this interview!

-Jackie

*question submitted to our Instagram account

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Player Interview: Lily Zhang

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!

-Jackie

Player Interview: Sahil Inaganti

This is the first in a new series of monthly interviews with different individuals in the Pennsylvania quizbowl community. Our goal is to represent a variety of quizbowl experiences around the state.

Sahil Inaganti (SI) is currently a junior at Parkland High School in Allentown. He began playing good quizbowl last year and led his team to win the Novice division of the 2017 Wissahickon Invitational.

This interview was conducted over the summer and has been edited for length and clarity.

JW: How did you first discover quizbowl?

SI: The Lehigh Valley has a TV show where high schools go head to head in academic competition, which I actually discovered in middle school. That was something that I knew I wanted to do, so when I got to high school, I joined our Scholastic Scrimmage club. Along with the TV show, our athletic conference also runs its own academic league. I was chosen as JV captain freshman year, and we did what you might refer to as “bad quizbowl.” We played a couple of those weird national competitions that Questions Unlimited puts out. My first experience with good quizbowl was this year, when we were invited to the Lehigh Valley Invitational. I was kind of blown away because I was used to playing all these bad questions where I could easily get them, which were just buzzer races most of the time. Then from there, I was forwarded an email to try out for NASAT—I was a bit confused on how they figured out that I would be eligible, so I looked up Lehigh Valley Invitational and found the NAQT stats, and then I started to understand more about how actual good quizbowl works. I signed up for a couple different tournaments, like Wissahickon. And in between, I started figuring out what Protobowl was, so in study hall I’d just play that.

JW: Are there any other major differences that you’ve noticed between Scholastic Scrimmage or your other local format and Saturday tournaments?

SI: I think the caliber of teams is definitely different. This year we made it all the way to our athletic conference finals and just blew all the other teams away, but going into the Lehigh Valley Invitational, I was not used to playing that new caliber of teams. I think we went like 2-3 [in the prelims], whereas, in our academic league in the Lehigh Valley, we’re used to blowing away teams with scores like 200 or 300, to like 60.

JW: Have you found that quizbowl has helped you in any way as a student?

SI: I’d say yes, because I guess I pay more attention in classes like AP US History. Even if it’s boring, when I know that I have the US History Bowl I’m going to, I think maybe I should start paying attention to this. It’s that motivation that the knowledge I’m getting in school can really transfer over to quizbowl, that really motivates me to pay more attention and work harder in school.

JW: Is there any advice you’d give to someone who’s new to playing pyramidal tournaments?

SI: Just don’t get overwhelmed. A lot of people, they get overwhelmed and think “I’ll never be as good as people I’m playing at the weekend tournaments,” but it’s not as hard as you think it is, to get good at quizbowl. Maybe a couple hours here and there, a couple minutes playing Protobowl on your free time, and you can jump 30, 40 points ahead.

JW: Lastly, do you have any goals for you and your team in the upcoming season?

SI: I definitely want to go to more weekend tournaments this year. It was just me and my brother going to Wissahickon and just getting one friend to go last year. We actually went to NAC this past year, instead of going to any of the real good competitions. But this year, some of my friends are also motivated to go with us, so definitely more weekend tournaments. We’re looking to host our own invitational sometime, so I’ve emailed NAQT about that. And, I guess, just get better and better, that’s it.

Thank you to Sahil for participating in this interview!

-Jackie

An Interview with GPQB’s Founders

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

Winchester Thurston Interview

I recently got the chance to chat with Jacob Dubner (JD), EJ Eppinger (EE), Nathaniel Hull (NH), and Aidan Place (AP), recent graduates of Winchester Thurston and members of the team that finished T-4 in the Private/Charter division of the 2017 SSNCT and T-9 at the 2017 HSNCT. They ended the season ranked #1 in Pennsylvania.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JW: How did you first get into playing quizbowl?

EE: Freshman year, we have this fun activity trip with a couple of seniors, and I was chaperoned by the legend Nat Brodsky. Somehow the subject of British monarchs came up, and apparently he was very impressed by my knowledge of British monarchs, which is very ironic because I know nothing about them. He said “you should do quizbowl!” so I showed up at the first quizbowl practice. Then I kind of invited the others.
NH: For me, after first trimester of sophomore year, I had just finished soccer season. Since my brother had done quizbowl the past year, I decided to try it, and after a while, I told Jacob how cool it was.
JD: Sometime winter of sophomore year is when I joined in.
AP: I joined in the beginning of my junior year, mainly because they did it.
JD: We were already friends with Jack Chaillet, who was the quizbowl captain and superstar, which also helped bring us in.

JW: You went from #10 in PA in the mid-season poll to #1 at the end of the year. What did you do to improve so quickly and prepare for nationals?

JD: Early on in the year, where there were teams beating us, it kind of gave us a reality check. I think before, we didn’t really do any specialization, everyone learned what they felt like learning. But then this year, we realized, “we’re really bad at fine arts, we’re really bad at science.”
AP: I think losing Jack Chaillet, who was a generalist and all-around player, made us realize where the gaps were.
EE: I definitely think that we learned how to play the games well enough that we had a higher probability of winning games that were close, even if they didn’t need to be.
NH: At HSNCT, I feel like every game was close, starting from the first round. By the end of it, we were ready, even against better teams, to just outbuzz them in buzzer races.
EE: And we had very few dumb negs. If we were able to keep it close, we had an advantage in that we were more disciplined, I guess.
NH: It helps having four people. You don’t have to rely on one person.
AP: One person can have a bad round, and other people can step up.
EE: It’s like, if I were a one man team, and I had a round with no buzzes, I’d be kind of screwed.

JW: At HSNCT, do you remember what you were thinking while you were playing on Sunday? Were you surprised to find yourselves still going in the playoffs?

NH: When we came up against Lehigh Valley, we were thinking his stats were so much better than ours, so it was going to be really hard.
AP: We were sort of shocked that we made it that far. It almost helped in a way, because we expected to lose those later rounds. We didn’t start panicking if we fell behind in points. It was like, keep calm and keep our heads in, and we just kept on going.
NH: It makes it even better once you win.
JD: I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, going into playoffs on the second day, my goal was top 50, but then we just kept going. Every extra round we went, it was like “oh, we’ve already gone further than we were supposed to go,” so just have fun and do your best.
NH: Once we were playing against higher seeds, it was like, just see what happens.

JW: Do you have any other good study tips or tips for team cohesion?

JD: Even for non-quizbowl stuff, we spend a lot of time together, so having a good group of friends, it’s not a burden when you have to go to quizbowl practice and hang out with these people.
NH: There’s less of a chance of tempers flaring in a match, or any issues like that. In terms of studying, I think you have to actually know the basic stuff before you learn the really hard hints for things.
EE: At least for most people, the first year you spend at quizbowl, you’re just learning the quizbowl canon. Or how the questions are written, understanding how they would word things.
NH: I think one of the reasons we did so well at nationals was because, especially EJ and Aidan, they just learn random things because it’s what they do for fun. [Jacob and I] handle the “quizbowl” knowledge, they handle the other stuff.
AP: [EJ and I] were able to fill in with random powers. There’s always going to be unpredictable power hints that you’re never going to find if you’re only studying “quizbowl” stuff.
NH: Also, some of it’s just assessing the risk of negging, and where you think the other team will buzz.
EE: Especially against some poorer teams, you’re motivated to not neg at all and wait until you’re 100% sure. But then at nationals, you’re like “I was going to buzz, but they beat me to it” on every question.
JD: We were kind of lulled into a sense of confidence and conservatism by local tournaments. There were a lot of good, competitive western PA teams like the Alagars, Allderdice, Norwin, Shady Side, but most don’t go to nationals. We got used to being able to wait until we were really sure to buzz, and I think we realized at small school nationals that maybe that didn’t work as well, especially against these really good teams.
EE: Against the teams that are better than you, you know you have to be aggressive.

JW: You guys mentioned the differences between SSNCT and HSNCT and how you played there. In your opinion, which was more fun?

All: HSNCT!
AP: There’s so many teams there, the hotel’s gigantic. It’s such an event.
NH: Basically, small schools nationals was good practice. SSNCT was fun, but HSNCT was more fun.
AP: And also we brought more people to HSNCT. We brought Jack Chaillet, our former captain, so it was just a better experience.
JD: At small school nationals, you still see questions that you would see at a local tournament, whereas at HSNCT, you get to see a lot more of that stuff like “I’ve never heard a question on this before,” so it’s just the freshness of it all.
EE: At HSNCT, there are entire questions on things that would be clues in easier questions.

JW: From the past season, is there any specific victory you’re especially proud of?

JD: The Darien one.
All: And the Lehigh Valley game.
NH: We won by a decent margin, too.
EE: I think all of us had a good round that round.
NH: And I think because Lehigh Valley was the first round, we woke up and found out we were playing Alex Schmidt—
AP: We didn’t really know how far we were going to go, we didn’t expect to go all that far, so it was one of the most satisfying unexpected victories. We were like “ok, we can actually go somewhere with this.”
JD: Jack Chaillet wasn’t in the room for that match, so as we were leaving the room, we walked out there and the surprised look on his face, a face of wonder, it was pretty awesome.

JW: Do you have any memorable team moments or favorite stories you’d like to share?

AP: We took a van to History Bowl, a ways outside the city. We brought Jack Chaillet with us and accidentally left him at the place where the tournament was. He went to the bathroom and we didn’t realize he was gone, so we just drove off without him. We were at least three miles down the road before we realized. And we didn’t actually turn around because we had forgotten him, we turned around because our coach who just retired at the end of the season, Mr. Hallas, forgot his backpack at the tournament place. As we were on our way back, we realized that we had actually also forgotten Jack. He’s there in the parking lot, wondering where we were.
NH: Another story—in the last round of small school nationals, I negged on the Philippines, saying Italy. I heard “bunga bunga party” instead of Bongbong Marcos. In honor of my neg—
AP: We named our SSNCT trophy after the question we thought lost us the tournament.
JD: Our SSNCT trophy is named Bongbong Marcos and our HSNCT trophy is called Ferdinand Marcos, after his father… I guess overall, the best thing about quizbowl, better than any individual story, just the overall experience of doing something with your friends—it’s been a lot of fun. These people, I spend 90% of my time with, even when we’re not doing quizbowl stuff. I think just getting to do something with them was a lot of fun.

JW: Lastly, do you guys intend to continue playing and/or being involved with quizbowl in the future?

AP: In September, I’m staffing a tournament in western Pennsylvania.
EE: Once you’re done with high school quizbowl, you can apply to write questions for NAQT—
NH: And I think some of us are trying that.
JD: My days as a competitor, I think, are over, but it’d be fun to staff some tournaments and write some questions. Maybe some recreational quizbowl, here and there.
EE: I definitely think I would go to staff tournaments at CMU.
NH: Yeah, we’re all going to be involved in some way.

JW: Alright, thanks! Do you have anything else you want to add?

EE: Just a shout-out to David Hallas.
JD: One of the little things—at nationals, whenever the other teams would call timeouts, their coaches would jump up, start giving this really intense pep talk.
NH: We would call our own timeouts whenever we felt like it.
AP: (laughing) He would meander up to the table with his coffee in his hand and be like “well, you guys are doing pretty well.”
NH: But this coming year, he’s going to be replaced by Dr. Josh Andy.
JD: So yeah, shout-out to David Hallas and our incoming coach, Dr. Andy. I think he’s going to be the one to pass on the quizbowl legacy. At our school, we had, way back, Nat Brodsky, who was the old quizbowl legend, then he passed it on to Jack Chaillet, and then Jack Chaillet passed it on to us. And hopefully we’ll pass it on to someone else.

Thanks to Jacob, EJ, Nathaniel, and Aidan for participating in this interview!

-Jackie

GPQB Podcast Episode #15: Interview with Coach Bern McCauley

In the 15th episode of the GPQB podcast, Chris talks with Great Valley High School’s quizbowl coach and 2015-2016 GPQB Coach of the Year, Bern McCauley. During the interview, coach McCauley provides his views on his vision of building up a top quizbowl program and dealing with the various challenges that quizbowl coaches often encounter.

Click here to listen or download.

GPQB Podcast Episode #13: Interview with Eric Mukherjee

In the 13th episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben interviews Eric Mukherjee, the consensus best-ever science player in quizbowl history, and a member of last year’s ACF Nationals-winning University of Pennsylvania team. Eric discusses his early years playing the non-pyramidal Kansas Scholars Bowl as well as the adjustment to the difficulty level of college quizbowl. Along the way, Eric offers advice for aspiring quizbowl players of all levels from brand-new players to teams studying for nationals.

Click here to listen.

GPQB Interviews: Missy Doll

Today we metaphorically sit down with Missy Doll, GPQB’s coach of the year, for a discussion of coaching. Missy has been co-coach of the Manheim Township program since 2009, overseeing their transition to pyramidal quizbowl. She has also helped reform the Lancaster- Lebanon quizbowl league to using exclusively good NAQT questions instead of house written speed checks, bringing excellent quality product to hundreds of students in the Lancaster area.

1) How did you first get involved with coaching Quizbowl?

Six years ago, the coach of our quiz bowl team wanted to step down.  He wanted to train his replacement, so he asked Chris Manning and I to do it.  We both said no at first, but we decided to do it together.  We were co-assistant coaches for a year before taking over the team.  Manheim Township has had a quiz bowl team since at least the late ‘80’s.  Last year the father of one of our players also played for Manheim Township when he was in high school.

2) Manheim Township has an extraordinary record of constant contention within the Lancaster Lebanon League (4 of the last 6 titles). How do you work to stay one step ahead of the other teams in your area?

We practice a lot.  We have practice twice a week, and we compete in as many tournaments as we can. When students miss practices, they write questions instead.  They are still doing something to improve as a quiz bowl player during that time.  This year alone, we have had 19 different competitions.  While the questions are different, you will learn something at one tournament that helps you answer a question at another. We also have amazing students that spend the time studying on their own.  Our team is whatever our students put into it.

3) Township consistently has one of the largest squads in the Philadelphia area, bringing D and E teams to tons of invitationals. How do you recruit?

Actually, you have to try-out to be a member of Manheim Township Quiz Bowl.  There’s a limit to the number of students that we can manage.  We’re limited to the number of students that can fit in our school vans to attend competitions, and that is our only means of transportation. We are even driving two vans to Chicago for HSNCT again this year.

We hold try-outs on the first Friday of the school year, and we rely on our students to help advertise.  So far, they have done a great job bringing in their friends that are also good quiz bowl players. If you make it fun, students will come. With that being said, I don’t support having try-outs if you can avoid it.  It adds a constraint to the team, but our district requires an activity fee for quiz bowl.  Everyone that competes on our team has paid $120 to the school to be eligible to play.

4) Manheim Township has always had several solid players sharing points at one time as opposed to the “superman” model of team. Do you think this has helped you over the seasons?

You can study one topic in depth, but you can’t cover every subject as well.  I highly recommend that strategy for new teams.  Even when we have had one player that overshadows the others, the team would still be a top bracket team without that one person.  That takes the pressure off that individual.  If they have a bad game, others will step-up.

I try to emphasize that individual awards don’t matter though. A team will be much stronger with four balanced, equally scoring players then with one dominant player. Individually scoring awards don’t reward that.  I personally wish individual scoring awards didn’t exist, but they are a staple of quiz bowl tournaments.

5) What’s the greatest challenge facing you as a coach in today’s game? Greatest reward?

The greatest challenge right now is funding.  When I started coaching, we received enough money to fund every tournament we wanted to attend.  If I put it in the budget, I got it.  Today, I am paying for a lot of things out of my own pocket.  I have purchased 2 ½ buzzer systems myself.  We are constantly fundraising to be able to pay for everything that we do.

The greatest reward is getting to work with this great group of students.  You won’t find a better group then quiz bowlers.

6) What’s the most memorable match your Manheim Township teams have been involved in?

Our most memorable matches have been on our local tv show, Brain Busters.  The show caters to close matches because the question distribution varies, and the questions include a lot of buzzer races. You never know what will happen.

At this point, I think the most memorable match would be last year’s finale.  We were behind by 75 points, but our team didn’t give up.  At the end of the round, Jake buzzed in with the answer of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Their reaction was priceless.  The next day we drove to Chicago for HSNCT, so that was a much more enjoyable van ride!
We were at a rest stop in the middle of Ohio when someone came up to Matthew and congratulated him on the win the night before.  It was a nice way to end our season.

Thanks to Missy for taking time to answer our questions!