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2019 SSNCT Wrap-Up

This year’s Small School National Championship Tournament saw over 152 teams from across the country gather outside of Chicago for a weekend of quizbowl competition between small schools. Despite upsets along the way, the favorites in both the Traditional Public and Open division took home the gold. Congratulations to Glasgow (KY) and Miami Valley (OH) on their SSNCT titles for public and open, respectively.

Stats for the tournament are here. If you need a refresher on the format, see my preview post from earlier this week. For this post, I’m going to summarize some of the major headlines regarding the Pennsylvania teams.

Friends Select and Winchester Thurston Shine, Build Friendly Rivalry

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Friends Select, on the way back to the airport, did quite well at SSNCT with several strong wins.

In terms of finish, the Pennsylvanians that scaled the highest were Philadelphia’s Friends Select and Pittsburgh’s Winchester Thurston, both finishing T-11th in the Open Division. They did well against a stacked field, but also worked to build what’s becoming one of the state’s most enjoyable quizbowl rivalries. The card system pitted them together twice in the prelim rounds. In Round 3, Thurston pulled out the last tossup to win a hard-fought squeaker, 360-355, in what all involved said was a great match. Friends Select avenged themselves 345-240 in the afternoon. After they didn’t get a chance to play for a third time in the playoffs, the two teams wanted to settle the question with a best-of-3 match, and scrimmaged each other informally (WT won) before playing some celebratory pop culture matches. It’s fantastic to see that the schools have not only started a charismatic, Philly-Pitt rivalry for top small private schools, but also are friendly and great sports as well.

Huntingdon Impresses in Traditional Public Tournament

The other playoff qualifier for PA this year was Huntingdon, who swung T-17th in the Traditional Public division. Taking my prediction to heart, they made sure to rub in their successes every time I encountered the team. It’s great to see them continue to do well and represent Central PA with honor and pride year in, year out. I can remember watching their first tournament appearance in 2015, and since then they’ve continued to study hard and enjoy quizbowl to the fullest. Well done!

Despite Strong Effort, Camp Hill’s Streak Ends

In something of a sad note, Camp Hill’s streak of eight 11th-or-better finishes ended this year, with a series of tough losses after a promising 4-2 start as Raceland-Worthington (KY) beat them in a win-and-in game between 5-4 teams in the last round. By points-per-game, Camp Hill was the best team to miss the playoffs, and exceeded the points-per-bonus of many playoff entrants to boot. While it’s a shame that the streak ended, this only means an opportunity to begin a new one. Sydney capped off a memorable career with just shy of 60 points per 20 tossups, good for 15th nationally individually.

First-Timers Sharpsville and Germantown Friends Have a Blast

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Sharpsville is all smiles as they wait for their next opponents.

PA had a first-time entrant for nationals in both divisions, and both had some highlight moments. In Traditional Public, Sharpsville went 4-6. PA alum Adam Swift and I, who were moderating together, had them come through our room twice on Saturday, and they seemed to be having a blast. Jared and Brenna both had great, multi-buzz performances in a defeat of Gold Beach (OR) we read, which was their first win. Meanwhile, Germantown Friends debuted in open, and went 5-5. This team had no seniors and performed well against a very tough schedule draw. They will be on many PA pollsters’ radars come the preseason for the 2019-2020 season.

Numerous PA Schools Build For the Future

While it may not have been the first rodeo for these schools, Westmont Hilltop, Lakeland, South Side, and Southern Fulton also contested the Public division, and Moravian A and B contested in Open. All went either 5-5 and 4-6, acquitting themselves well on these questions. Once again, many of these players are underclassmen, and surely learned quite a bit at this tournament. Josh from Southern Fulton made the top 20 players for Public with 53 PP20TUHs (Points-Per-20-Tossups-Heard–yeah it’s a mouthful, but it’s used at NAQT nationals because the number of tossups heard each game is variable and so they normalize scoring by every 20 tossups heard).

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South Side, having fun during the preliminary rounds.

This tournament was a thrill to staff. I have done a few SSNCT wrap-ups in the past, but it’s completely different to be on the ground and experience it as the players do, with twists and turns, highs and lows of emotion, and wonderful friends and conversations. At its heart, quizbowl is about people, and this SSNCT showed that. Major props to Nathan Murphy and the NAQT logistics team, who ran this event without a hitch and made the staffer experience a breeze.

-Ben

2019 SSNCT Preview

Twelve teams from eleven different Pennsylvania schools will be competing at the 2019 NAQT Small School National Championship Tournament in Chicago this weekend. The event is designed for schools with small enrollments, and thus a smaller pool for team members. These teams qualified for SSNCT by finishing in the top 30% of teams from eligible schools at tournaments and leagues throughout the state, and they will be competing in separate Traditional Public School and Open (Private + Charter) divisions. The complete field can be found here.

In both divisions, teams will be playing ten power-matched prelim games on Saturday using a card system, and those with a winning record (6-4 or better) will make the next day’s playoffs. In the playoffs, double elimination will decide the champion. Further details can be found in our guide to national championships. Last year’s set was approximately the same difficulty as a NAQT IS set, so it will be easier than the larger HSNCT tournament later this month. PA teams have had success at SSNCT in the recent past, with Camp Hill obtaining 3rd in the Public School division (and 1st among the Very Small Schools) two seasons ago, and Friends Select and Winchester Thurston finishing in the top four of the Open Division within the last two years.

Here are quick summaries and my just-for-fun (and often comically wrong!) prediction for each team:

Traditional Public

Camp Hill

Few things are as sure in Pennsylvania Quizbowl as Camp Hill ranking among its top small schools. They will be looking to extend an impressive streak of eight consecutive top-eleven finishes for Small Schools nationally this weekend. Sydney, a longtime veteran and a great lit and myth player, will lead them. Unfortunately, their stats have been weaker than in years past and outside of Sydney, they lack a deep threat. Their good bonus conversion and high-pressure experience should get them to the playoffs easily; we will watch excitedly to see if the top-eleven streak continues.

Prediction: 7-3 in Prelims, top 15 Finish

Huntingdon

Another team from Central PA, Huntingdon has developed over the years into a steady presence in Pennsylvania Small School rankings. They finished in a tie for fifteenth at last year’s SSNCT. I want to predict similar success this year, but their statistical record has a ton of red flags (low PPB on sets above the A-Set level, a healthy neg rate). SSNCT Public has a lot close games, and hopefully the senior-heavy lineup from Huntingdon’s experience serves them well. I think they’ll make playoffs again, but won’t make it quite as far as last time.

Prediction: 6-4 in Prelims, top 25 Finish

Lakeland

Lakeland will be the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area’s lone representative at SSNCT. After losing last year’s all-state honorable mention player Michael Goerlitz to graduation, Lakeland went into a rebuild. They improved significantly as the year went on, going from about 10 to 14 PPB on IS sets. I don’t think they’re quite a playoff team, but Lakeland shows potential for a strong 2020.

Prediction: 5-5 in Prelims

Sharpsville

Coming from the New Castle-Hermitage Area, Sharpsville will be making their nationals debut this SSNCT. They’ve been playing regularly and enthusiastically, and it’s great to see them challenge themselves with the top small schools. They should enjoy their trip to Chicago and keep building buzzer experience.

Prediction: 3-7 in Prelims

South Side

A longtime regular on the circuit out of Beaver County, South Side is coming off a SSNCT playoff appearance last season. They’re not quite as strong statistically this year, but did manage a solid 7th place finish at Battle of the Burgh. SSNCT will be a good test for them, as a lot of their opponents will be similar to schools in their weight class in the Pittsburgh area.

Prediction: 5-5 in Prelims

Southern Fulton

This is something of a mystery team for us. Despite being from Pennsylvania, Southern Fulton hasn’t played at a PA event in years, instead showing up as an occasional competitor at Maryland events. They have excellent neg control this year it seems, though never finished above 27th at a tournament. It’s hard to get a grasp on them, and we’d love to see them around Pennsylvania more often.

Prediction: 3-7 in Prelims

Westmont Hilltop 

Famous for “the recorder dance” that blew up on NAQT’s instagram a couple SSNCTs ago, Westmont Hilltop is back for more. They have a fantastic player in Moses Zeidan, who piloted them to a strong 2nd place at the Allderdice Invitational this year. Without him in tow, however, Westmont Hilltop has struggled mightily to even clear 100 points per game this season. I will make my prediction assuming they are at full strength.

Prediction: 6-4 in Prelims, Top 30 Finish

Open Division

Friends Select

Friends Select is coming of a 2nd place SSNCT finish last year, and while much of that team has graduated, there’s still quite a bit left in the tank for another run. Matt D’Annunzio has been one of this season’s breakout players, and Rudyard Lynch has turned into a grizzled veteran who feasts on NAQT categories like current events. The rest of the team can pitch in, and FSS always finds a way to leverage good real knowledge into a successful performance. They’re dropped back a bit on their abilities on science and fine art since last season, but they’ll make a deep run again.

Prediction: 8-2 in Prelims, Top 10 finish.

Germantown Friends

As for the other Quaker School, GFS is what we at GPQB might call an “Archetypal Emmaus”: a school which had never played quizbowl before, shows up in the fall, hits the ground running, and becomes an immediate impact team. Germantown Friends didn’t finish below 2nd at any event they played in season, with impressive stats (PPBs in the 20s, good power rate). The biggest concern for them is that they’ve never seen questions harder than the A-Set or introductory level, so the difficulty jump to nationals might be jarring. Because of this, I don’t expect too deep a run, but playoffs seem a reasonable goal and they will undoubtedly catch an unprepared team off guard.

Prediction: 6-4 in Prelims, Top 25 Finish

Moravian Academy A

Moravian has slowly risen through the ranks to become a solid performer out of the Lehigh Valley, and made playoffs at SSNCT last year. The entire roster from that run returns. They seem all-around solid, and their stats might not wow you, but they have a few top five tournament finishes to their name. I expect a similar result to last year.

Prediction: 6-4 in Prelims, Top 25 Finish

Moravian Academy B

Like their A team, these are hardworking players looking to cap off a great season. Stats don’t indicate a ton of depth with this program. I doubt they make the playoffs, but they should get good experience to keep Moravian a contender for years to come.

Prediction: 3-7 in Prelims

Winchester Thurston

Winchester Thurston has spent nearly a decade as one of the Pittsburgh Area’s best schools, and this year is no exception. They have been significantly hampered by not being able to play with their full lineup this season, but flashed some excellent potential (a 59/96/19 line with 22 PPB during a winning performance at Allderdice Invitational, notably). They finished 4th in 2017 and T5 last year. This team seems similar in some ways, and should do almost as well.

Prediction: 7-3 in Prelims, Top 10 Finish

-Ben

GPQB Awards, 2018-19

As has been the case since our first year as a blog, we give out a Player of the Year, JV Player of the Year (9th and 10th grade), and Coach of the Year award to prominent individuals in the Pennsylvania quizbowl community. These award both on the buzzer achievements, as well as representing the way we play the game with sportsmanship and honor. These individuals join an elite club of some of the best to ever contest the game, and deserve recognition for their hard work and many hours of time invested in quizbowl and achieving excellence.

Congratulations to Will Yaeger of Hempfield High School for winning Player of the Year for 2018-2019. This award recognizes his rapid pace of improvement, leading his Hempfield team to stronger and stronger finishes as the season went on, as well as consistent points per game numbers in the top five of tournaments he played. Will has shown the ability to be a deep powering threat in multiple areas of the distribution, and strong performances have won respect from all corners of the state and beyond.

Congratulations to Albert Zhang of State College High School for winning JV Player of the Year for 2018-19. After bursting onto the scene with a tour de force performance at HSNCT last year, Albert has lived up to expectations and piloted his State College squad to continued success. He is only the 3rd JV-eligible player to make one of our all-state teams, and has emerged as the most potent scoring threat on some very deep State College rosters.

Congratulations to Steve Sobieck of Henderson High School for winning Coach of the Year for the 2018-19 season. This award recognizes both the past and present success of the Henderson program, which has remained a constant contender across several seasons and regularly features among the top finishing Pennsylvania teams. Further, under his tutelage, several significant players have developed into major scoring threats, with new Henderson Warriors emerging into the spotlight seemingly each year.

-The Staff

GPQB All-State Teams, 2018-2019

It’s that time of year again folks! As has been our tradition, we are here to recognize some of top players in the state with our two all-state teams of five, plus honorable mentions. Panelists that participated agreed that this was the most difficult year yet for picking players, and many top notch students deserved consideration for a place. We congratulate all these players for their hard work and dedication to learning and playing quizbowl.

Without further ado, here are the 2018-19 GPQB All State selections:

First Team

  • Vijay Anne, Henderson High School
  • Austin Davis, Allderdice High School
  • Jakobi Deslouches, Allderdice High School
  • Connor Mayers, Penn Manor High School
  • Will Yaeger, Hempfield High School

Second Team

  • Matt D’Annunzio, Friends Select School
  • Alana Dickey, Allderdice High School
  • John Li, Great Valley High School
  • Will Steger, Manheim Township High School
  • Albert Zhang, State College High School

Honorable Mentions

  • Sid Chenrayan, Henderson High School
  • Rudyard Lynch, Friends Select School
  • Truman Jury, Allderdice High School
  • Anshu Nunemunthala, Great Valley High School
  • Rishi Raman, Great Valley High School
  • Leo Sweeney, Allderdice High School
  • Ryan Zhang, Hempfield High School

-The Staff

 

Quizbowl Road Trips

Eric Huff was the long-time quizbowl coach of Dorman High School in South Carolina, during which time he planned and led more than two hundred quizbowl road trips, including one that may (or may not) have inadvertently crossed an international border.  He is now the director of Qwiz Quizbowl Camps (www.qwizbowl.com)

***

Is there anything better than a quizbowl roadtrip? Forgetting about school for a couple of days and hitting the road in search of fun, adventure, and that elusive “sick buzz”? Sure there’s a tournament you’re headed to, but let’s be honest, the real fun is in the journey.  Years later, students probably won’t remember the score of that final match, but they will definitely remember the fun they had laughing with at those stupid inside jokes that can only come from a weekend packed in a car for hours with your friends.

So what makes a quizbowl road trip great?  It takes a conscious effort to prioritize creating unique experiences and opportunities for team bonding.  If done right, the quizbowl road trip will make your team better by strengthening the relationships among teammates which in turn will provide social motivation for students to become more invested in the program.  But maybe that’s overthinking it. Ultimately, if you make a point to have fun, it’ll all work out, and you’ll have a great quizbowl road trip.

So let’s get to it.  As the late great Tom Petty said, “there’s something good waiting down this road”.  He probably wasn’t talking about tossups, but who knows?

TAKE DETOURS

Sure, time is limited and there are tossups to be powered, but do yourself a favor and make it a point to get off the Interstate every now and again.  Whether that’s taking the scenic route or taking a team photo at a cheesy roadside attraction, you’ll be glad that you did. Not only will the view be a little nicer, but you’ll have a chance to interact with locals in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise.  It’s a well-established fact that people are more interesting the farther you get from the Interstate. And these are the interactions that you’ll be talking about long after you’re back home.

EAT LOCAL

A simple rule: if you can get it in your town, avoid it on the road.  You can eat Subway anytime; why stop there on a road trip? Traveling is about adventure and new experiences, and there’s no better way to way to do that then with your food choices.  So next time try the local sandwich shop. Every town has one, and it’s almost certainly better than Subway.

Can’t find a local sandwich shop?  Make your quizbowl road trip your opportunity to try regional chains that you might not have at home.  Eat at Zaxby’s or Waffle House in the south, or Culver’s in the midwest, or Whataburger in Texas, or Shake Shack in the northeast.

Or if you really want have an experience, eat something truly local.  Have a horseshoe if you find yourself in central Illinois.  Eat pimento cheese when you’re in the south.  Enjoy a juicy lucy in Minnesota.  Bite into a beef on weck or a plate of chicken riggies in western New York.

What’s great about quizbowlers is that they are bright, open-minded, and intellectually curious.  So when you’re on a quizbowl road trip, don’t be afraid to encourage your team to step outside their culinary comfort zone and try something different.    

PLAY MUSIC

Music is a key element of a successful road trip.  Now, I’m not going to tell you what to put in your road trip playlist.  Rather, I want to encourage you to use music as an opportunity to build team camaraderie.  

Too often, teams get in the car (or van, or bus), and everyone puts on headphones and disappears into their own world.  Instead, why not use music as an opportunity to bond as a team?

Here’s a suggestion: over the course of the trip, everyone gets to choose two songs to play.  The idea is to pick one song that others might not know but you’re really into and one song that EVERYBODY knows and can’t help but sing along to.  This gives everyone a chance to hear a song they really like, learn a little bit about their teammates, and spark a team karaoke session. Not bad! Who knows, maybe you can teach your team a thing or two about how music was back in the good ole days.

Quizbowl is a team game, and consistently good programs are adept at building team camaraderie.  By taking a solitary activity (listening to music) and transforming it into a communal activity, you are building a team bond that will contribute to the team’s success.

HAVE FUN

It’s easy to do nothing more on a quizbowl road trip than travel, compete, and go home.  Drives are long, tournaments are long, and weekends are short. The best quizbowl road trips, however, include some other activity that is in no way quizbowl related.  Whether its a trip to the zoo, a museum, mini golf, bowling, a scavenger hunt, game night, or a quick game of touch football at a highway rest stop, do SOMETHING. These experiences are vital in building that team chemistry that’s necessary for a winning culture.

***

I was a high school quizbowl coach for a number of years, and in that time we were blessed with a fair amount of success.  We worked really hard and won a lot of games. Some I remember vividly, but over time, the specifics of a lot of those games have faded.  Years later, it’s hard to remember which games we won and which games we lost – which questions we answered and which questions we didn’t.  

What sticks with me, though, are the experiences we had on those trips.  Whether you’re a coach or a player, it’ll probably be the same for you. So make the most of your quizbowl road trips.  Create memories for your team that will last a lifetime.

We thank Eric for taking his time to write this guest post!

-The Staff

THE RISE OF A CIRCUIT, PT. 2: Defining Community Values

This is a continuation of last month’s post on the consolidation and rise to prominence of Pennsylvania’s circuit. Last time, we discussed the structural changes, such as better tournament practices, social media, and logistical organization of resources. These were useful and helped create a stable circuit, both competitive and socially. That post stayed largely factual in its arguments. This current post won’t be, as it will contain more of my own opinion about how things have come to work in Pennsylvania’s quizbowl community.

I argue that in addition to the nuts-and-bolts structural elements of the circuit, Pennsylvania has become stronger because it has adopted certain cultural values about what we want the quizbowl circuit to be which its members accept as community goals. In a few recent discussions with other locals involved with the game, I’ve refereed to this somewhat humorously as “capital P” Pennsylvania quizbowl, a specific way of doing things, as opposed to “lower case p” Pennsylvania quizbowl, which is simply pyramidal events that occur within the borders of the state. The community has agreed upon some core values that I feel we place different weight on than the larger, national quizbowl community, giving us a distinct identity.

In this post, I will put forth three propositions that I consider central to capital P Pennsylvania quizbowl and the sense of identity we have forged. While there is no written in stone agreement on any one point, but I feel there is a general consensus among the community on these items. They help define what we are, what we’ve done, and what we hope to continue to do.

Proposition #1: Quizbowl can and should be for the many, and not for the few.

This will be a controversial statement: the idea that good quizbowl should be accessible to everyone is treated as a truism in the national community in speech, but not in action. One need only look at the vast number of tournaments that overshoot their difficulty and the factional disputes over how to write questions over elements irrelevant to 99% of quizbowlers to see a disturbing pattern. Question production has become something one does for one’s self as a player, as a study tool, rather than as a product for use by someone else. This mindset holds back the growth potential of quizbowl. Sets are being produced with the advanced meta-game and the in-crowd in mind, and not the untapped mass audience. This is particularly problematic because it limits the number of good, playable questions accessible to high schools who do not know about quizbowl, won’t know the canon, and will feel overwhelmed by the writer’s difficulty arms race as those writers try to learn clues to compete themselves. Too hard sets mean that new teams are unlikely to stick.

Pennsylvania quizbowl’s community has fought this by doing our best to offer playable sets to novice teams. The PA Novice series, currently written and edited by Bill Tressler, provides a tangible product which can be mirrored widely in the state as a friendly introduction. It focuses on broadly known topics and features a very non-mACF distribution that downplays parts of quizbowl that the uninitiated are unlikely to know (letting them work their way to things like fine arts and philosophy after they get their feet wet). JV divisions are near ubiquitous, and they often use easier sets than the Varsity division in order to keep the experience fun for new teams by avoiding tough answer lines or aggressively lengthy tossups. Outreach-focused events avoid IS sets and house-writes, which we have seen time and again overwhelm new clubs. The outreach done by the Pennsylvania community always keeps these issues of difficulty front and center in our strategic planning. A new student’s first taste of quizbowl should always be an accessible and enjoyable one.

Proposition #2: Good quizbowl is more than good questions.

The overall experience of a tournament for high school players is defined by much, much more than simply giving them good questions to play on. This is not to say Pennsylvania Quizbowl sees question structure and game format as irrelevant, anything but. Questions that swerve, unfair game structure, and an overabundance of obscure material do leave students upset and must be combated. What I mean to say is only that good questions are not sufficient in and of themselves to call a tournament “good quizbowl.” One can have the fairest and most interesting questions in the world, but if the tournament runs hours overdue, the price is too high, the staff is aloof, the rules are not made clear beforehand, or the stats are done incorrectly or not posted, the experience of the player will be adversely affected. A central tenant of Pennsylvania’s quizbowl practice is that all these things must run well and this is just as important as using pyramidal questions.

Some of the things discussed in the previous post are relevant here. Chief among them, t the Pennsylvania way requires that all staff are familiar with the rules and if assigned to moderate can read a round effectively in a half hour or less. To make a quizbowl tournament work all your staff must know both the rules of the game and the cadence of the quizbowl match. Without this, delays are bound to ensue. This comes through exposure and cannot be trained on paper or with an explanation. Pennsylvania TDs are proud of our efficient end times, with the standard of finishing before 4:00 and often much quicker. Further, the community publicly pressures hosts that do not do stats on time, and it ensures fair prices for tournaments to give people their money’s worth. Running a “good quizbowl” tournament here means more than purchasing a good set.

Proposition #3: One is not only an alumnus or alumna of their school, but also of Pennsylvania Quizbowl at large.

Pennsylvania quizbowl has a grassroots atmosphere. We could not run anything like the operation we do without the growing group of volunteers who give up many Saturdays a year to read. Most of them played quizbowl for a Pennsylvania high school themselves. They won’t simply help out their own alma mater, but will help at any school they can drive to. The staff corps unites the Pennsylvania circuit through its collective effort to make sure every site has as many elite moderators as possible. Beyond the moderators and statisticians, many of the players themselves become part of this process. I am astounded and humbled by the fact so many players still in high school will give up their own weekends when they’re not playing to read at middle school tournaments, or novice divisions that need help. Pennsylvanian quizbowlers are in the habit of doing each other favors, and thus forming close personal relationships.

We beleive that helping one PA high school makes all PA high schools better. They will drive each other to study and exchange interesting things they learn. Thus, our rising circuit’s success is to some extent a collective achievement, not just that of the constituent schools. Obviously, individual teams that win the titles should get specific recognition of their hard work. Yet, there is a sense that we are all in this together and can grow stronger through cooperation.

-Ben Herman

The Rise of a Circuit, Pt. 1: Structural Changes

It was a slightly warm November day, and Phoenixville High school was caked in the glow of morning sunlight. Students collected in the cafeteria, many of them unaware of the exact nature of the tournament before them. Many had traveled from Maryland and New Jersey for the upcoming quizbowl activities, and just as many were representing their school for the first time that day. 36 teams registered, but only 34 appeared, for Downingtown STEM decided not to notify the TD their two teams were not coming. The staff was a mixed lot of inexperienced students, inexperienced coaches, one former coach that had been around the block, and one college player. While the day was fun, a few critical mistakes, particularly trying to do all the stats on one computer, caused several delays throughout the day. Most teams seemed to be enjoying their experience, but struggled with IS-questions at times. Focus and competitive intensity proved hit or miss. The tournament ended with an all Wilmington Charter match, as a spirited B team unseated a lackadaisical A team. Few of the teams bothered to talk to each other between games.

This particular tournament, from 2013, was the first high-school-hosted pyramidal tournament to ever happen in Philadelphia and its four collar counties. It had been proceeded the prior spring by a 24 team tournament at Manheim Township, up from 8 teams in 2012. Outside of these, if one wanted to play pyramidal quizbowl, one had to go to the well established but weak and scattered western circuit, anchored by college-run events, or look outside the state of Pennsylvania. The idea of high quality Pennsylvania quizbowl was a theoretical one, and indeed, many firsthand recollections from the period indicate the PA squads who ventured into other circuits being mocked. It is worth mentioning Phoenixville as a good example of what has changed in Pennsylvania quizbowl since. Delays have become rare, teams are experienced and extremely competitive, scores are high, drops have decreased, and out of state teams don’t win here often. What made this change possible? What might the rest of quizbowl learn from our example? This post will be the first of a two part series covering the rise to prominence of Pennsylvania in the quizbowl world. The first will focus on the structure and quizbowl practices of the circuit, and the second will focus on community building.

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For one, it must be stated upfront that Pennsylvania has not been unique in developing a circuit where a weak one existed five years ago. Florida and Nevada are also excellent examples of other young circuits, though neither has yet had the on the buzzer success of Pennsylvania’s past season or two. Other circuits that were already strong, such as California’s Northern and Southern halves, Ohio, and Illinois, have continued to improve. Counter to this, some circuits, such as the Washington DC area, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, have declined in national prominence while still producing some elite teams. What we can draw from Pennsylvania should not be taken as panacea for outreach woes, as others have been successful and may have done things different. However, we’ve gone from little to a lot in just about five and a half years’ time, so it might be worth analyzing the methods we used to get there.

The first step was simply a survey of what we had to work with in the area. How many academic teams were there, of any sort? What formats did they play? In the lead up to GPQB’s 2014 launch, we put an immense amount of man hours into simply learning all of the local high schools, compiling e-mails, and sending personalized invitations to teams all over the Philadelphia area. The process was often frustrating. Response rates for e-mail blasts are very low yield in quizbowl, as we are selling a little known activity and often going against similar competitions with short seasons and low investment from their schools. This step was important, however, for simply gathering up what we had. There were some great players waiting out there, and some dedicated coaches too. We needed all the help we could get, and having a critical mass of people was important for future steps.

Secondly, we had to galvanize places to start hosting more, and hosting with good practices. In 2012-14, there were events in Pennsylvania, but they were scattered and tended to be poorly run. Formats were non-standard and experimental, using 10 team card systems, odd tiebreakers, and poorly trained staff. A 10 round event often wouldn’t finish until 5 or 6 pm, and at times teams only got 6 or 7 rounds on the day. Even in the 2014-15 season, delays were frequent. However, with invested time, TDs began to improve their directing skills. We gradually saw the wane of “random teachers unaffiliated with quizbowl” as moderators, the impositions of training programs, and a concerted effort to get more alumni to staff. This has helped allow Pennsylvania’s circuit to develop in two key ways. For one, badly run tournaments turn off new to quizbowl schools as much as bad questions do, so eliminating inefficiencies allowed us to keep more teams around. Secondly, uniform standards are easily explainable. First time Pennsylvania hosts can now start their own events with relative ease, knowing what needs to be done and where to get resources. This was not always the case.

With better tournaments and a good grasp on what was already on the ground in Pennsylvania, effective localized outreach could occur. This has been our bread and butter. One consistent thing we’ve encountered in the state is that if you can put a tournament within an hour of a school, the chance they will try out pyramidal increases significantly. Many of our gains have been local teams that will only attend events at nearby schools and not travel; likewise, many of our losses have been from teams near tournaments that no longer occur. While large e-mail blasts were not high yield, directed local outreach by coaches at neighbor schools has proved much more effective at getting new schools on board. Similarly, access to a nearby advocate who can show a team the ropes has been extremely helpful. Chris Chiego’s work starting 7 or 8 teams in the city of Philadelphia by going in and actually visiting shows what an in-person visit and phone call can do.

It may be obvious, but it must be said that the biggest reason Pennsylvania quizbowl became better was dedicated students studying, and wanting to achieve at a high level on tough questions. A good setup helps facilitate teams becoming elite at quizbowl, but those of us working on running tournaments and inviting teams to them are only clearing the fields for others to tend to and harvest. Once we had few established programs, students had clearer standards of what to study and how to do it well (and shared them). Players saw the best and could strive to be it. We inherited State College from the old days. Their success between the late 90s and 2011 was incredible, but it’s hard to really appropriate them for “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” as we define it today. They mostly played far away and their success was at a different time where the idea of state level circuits was much more nebulous. Manheim Township and Winchester Thurston both emerged in the immediate period before circuit building set in, and both got good fast. In the last few years we have had the group of Chester County Teams, LVA, Delaware Valley, Friends Select, and most recently Allderdice take advantage of resources and combine them with competitive drive to have a notable national finish. Having teams to prove the model worked was critical in giving us something to sell to other teams. That being said, we are extremely happy to have teams less interested in performing well at nationals as well. Schools that just show up three or four times a year to learn and have fun provide a backbone for the circuit and provide a fresh perspective on how the game can be written and organized.

Accompanying student drives for success, GPQB and individual teams worked to increase our visibility within wider quizbowl off the buzzer. Pennsylvania acquired a gradual social media presence between 2015 and today, between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Discord. I think our visibility was limited with the older guard of quizbowl during the first few years, as few Pennsylvanians carved out much of a forum presence. But, our high schoolers have clearly carved out an big niche in what I’ll dub “new quizbowl media,” places like Illinois Quizbowl Memes, Quizpolling Purposes, and off-forum chatrooms. We had good players in 2015 and 2016, but none achieved national attention. This past season, we had bonafide quizbowl celebrities. This, as much as anything, has solidified our place as a region everyone considers when they look at the lay of the land.

A final but crucial step to circuit building is the still ongoing process of what I call  “harmonization.” I define this as getting all tournament hosts, moderators, coaches, and even nearby parties in other states on the same page to produce optimal scheduling and distribution of resources and time. It doesn’t make sense to schedule two events near each other on the same day, or even back to back weekends. This burdens the staffer corps, which has been very generous in helping build Pennsylvania quizbowl up and will be talked about at length in Part 2. Key sets like SCOP and IS sets need to be distributed properly to cater to Pennsylvania’s three circuits.* The founding of a coaches association and the continued involvement of outreach gurus will hopefully help this, but there are still some overlaps to deal with.

Circuit building is a never-ending process. Of the 800 or so high schools in the state, only 80 played a pyramidal invitational in the past season, and of those only 50 did it regularly. The last five years have not made Pennsylvania a pyramidal haven to the level we’d like. However, we have established a base stability that produces top teams regularly and provides hundreds of students every year with the opportunity for fair play on good questions and fun times with friends. We have large national recognition for what our players have done on the buzzer and what our alumni have done to circuit-build. This is the legacy of the first era of Pennsylvania quizbowl, and also the first chapter in a long story of amazing things.

-Ben Herman

* (Pennsylvania essentially has three major groups of teams that play each other frequently and the other two groups infrequently: the “extended Southeast” of the Philadelphia Suburbs and Dutch Country, the Northeast including the Lehigh Valley, and the Western half of Pennsylvania. There are a few teams that shuttle between these regions but they tend to be ones that play a lot.)

GPQB Writing Team Announcements

We are excited to announce that we will be joined by two new contributors beginning this summer and upcoming competition year. Both bring unique quizbowl expertise to better cover tournaments in the state, help outreach efforts, and lead community engagement in Pennsylvania quizbowl.

Emily Dickson started playing quizbowl at Downingtown East High School, where she helped establish the team as a circuit regular. She is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is double majoring in history and international relations. She is currently the tournament director for Pitt’s high school events, and is also working on doing outreach to local schools in the Pittsburgh metro. She also is the administrator of the Facebook group Quizpolling Purposes, where quizbowlers from all over the world vote on polls regarding pyramidal quizbowl and silly stuff alike.

Rebecca Rosenthal is a junior at Swarthmore College and has played quizbowl since seventh grade. She was the captain of the team at Bergen County Academies in New Jersey from 2014-2016. She founded and leads the most recent incarnation of Swarthmore’s quizbowl club where she hopes to help expand the burgeoning Philadelphia area circuit as a tournament director and staffer. She studies Ancient History and Art History, and hopes to continue her involvement in quizbowl as an educator when she graduates.

We are thrilled to work with both Emily and Rebecca and look forward to continuing the tradition of exemplary quizbowl in Pennsylvania.

As a final announcement, our co-founder Chris Chiego will be on sabbatical from GPQB and the site’s associated social media accounts for the upcoming academic year, to focus on his schoolwork. We wish him good luck and hope to see him on tournament Saturdays.

-The Staff

GPQB All State Teams, 2017-2018

With the regular season over and nationals prep upon us, GPQB is pleased to once again announce our All-State teams for the quizbowl season. A panel of moderators and observers of the quizbowl circuit voted over the past week to select the team based on high performances across at least three individual all-subject tournaments, and in recognition of excellence on the buzzer in multiple academic categories. These players are the among top of among many fantastic players, and selection was as difficult as ever. We also have chosen a few other players for honorable mention. To all these players, as well as their parents, families, teachers, coaches, and friends, well done and well deserved. The 2017-2018 All-Star Teams are as follows:

First Team All-State

  • Richard Chen, Friends Select School
  • Sam Scarfone, Great Valley High School
  • Alex Schmidt, Lehigh Valley Academy
  • Vishwa Shanmugam, Downingtown STEM Academy
  • Jackie Wu, Downingtown East High School

Second Team All-State

  • Jakobi Deslouches, Allderdice High School
  • Jamie Faeder, Allderdice High School
  • Bryce Katch, Manheim Township High School
  • Collin Kawan-Hemler, Delaware Valley High School
  • Lily Zhang, State College High School

Honorable Mentions

  • Vijay Anne, Henderson High School
  • Anish Gadgil, Downingtown STEM Academy
  • Michael Goerlitz, Lakeland High School
  • Frani King, Delaware Valley High School
  • Dan Nguyen, Manheim Township High School
  • Aravind Sivaram, Henderson High School