Useful to New Teams

Starting a New College Quizbowl Team: A Start-Up Plan

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.]

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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Setting Your Team’s Goals for the Upcoming Quizbowl Season

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. 

-Chris 

How to Efficiently Coach Quizbowl

We at GPQB salute all the teachers who sponsor quizbowl teams and want to help y’all coach more efficiently as well as effectively. This post is designed to help quizbowl sponsors ease the burdens of coaching while still giving their players plenty of opportunities to compete and the necessary guidance in improving. You might also be interested in our guide for how coaches can help improve their team; that post and this post are intended as complements.

While many coaches can and do go above and beyond out of a love of quizbowl itself or a desire to win a state/national championship, we envision that the typical quizbowl coach should aim to:

  • Hold practices at least twice a week
  • Take his or her team to at least four pyramidal tournaments a year
  • Introduce players to study resources online 
  • Take a team to quizbowl nationals should your team qualify

Here are some ways to make that process go more efficiently:

1. Take teams to tournaments, but take time for yourself at tournaments 

It’s totally fine not to be an active coach all the time. For your typical weekend tournament, feel free to sit in the back of a room and grade or prep lessons for the next week. Check in with your team or teams between rounds, but otherwise let the questions teach your students during the tournament. You can even have your players keep track of the questions they get on their own scoresheet and write down the answerlines that they missed so that you can go over them later.

2. Make practices student-run

This is one thing that many coaches already do to some extent, but it’s worth mentioning here in detail. Have the students come by after school, before school, or during lunch (whenever you do your practices) and do the work of setting up the buzzers, getting chairs moved around, etc. You might even time them each day to see how quickly they can get it done if they’re being a little lackadaisical.

Have a clear system of what packets have been read in the past (some teams write the date in which they last read a paper packet on the front of the packet or keep a Google Doc with what packets have been read so far) and which ones are coming up next. If a NAQT tournament is coming up for instance, then you might want to read NAQT questions that week; if a housewrite is coming up, then you might want to read questions from the previous year’s edition of that tournament. The students can take the lead in organizing this as well and in keeping score. Most of the time students ought to be able to handle rotating reading responsibilities on their own, but you should also feel free to assign a reader (perhaps a newcomer to practice or someone outside the club who wants to help read at a tournament) as well.

The main exception to this rule is in the first few practices of the year when you need to pay more attention to new students. This also holds if this is your school’s first year with a quizbowl team and you’re trying to explain concepts and strategies to students. After a year or two of having a team though, the students should be able to pass on this kind of practice-running knowledge fairly easily on their own.

3. Get an assistant coach

Many teachers who might not be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of being the head coach might still be happy to help out as an assistant. This means someone who’s willing to help run practices in their room part of the time and who can attend tournaments on occasion (or in shifts) to help reduce the burden on the main coach. Perhaps the main coach could also work with the assistant to ensure that the assistant is ready to take over, should the main coach need to leave or retire.

4. Get parents involved

Parents are often happy to help with driving and chaperoning for tournaments. Talk to them as early as possible and bring your potential schedule for tournaments to them early in the year so that they can plan around that. You’re also more likely to find that your students take quizbowl more seriously if their parents also take quizbowl seriously.

Parents can be especially helpful when running a tournament–they can man registration tables, sell concessions, help sort through scoresheets and packets, and do other helpful jobs for part of the tournament without needing much training. You may also want to start training a reading corps of parents who might be interested in coming back to read in future years, but this will take some time.

5. Have students keep track of and identify the tournaments that they can/want to attend. 

Planning the logistics for attending tournaments is a considerable chunk of time, but you can have your players help with that. All the information that you need to know about tournaments in your area is usually publicly available on NAQT.com, the hsquizbowl forums, or other local sites like GPQB’s regional schedule. Have your students keep track of what tournaments are upcoming in your area and which ones they would like to attend well in advance so that you can make the necessary preparations. This is also a good way for the students to practice figuring out a budget–how much funding do you have to work with, how much do you need to fundraise to attend these tournaments, etc. While of course the sponsor has the final say here and usually must work with the school administration to plan the trips, it definitely helps to have the students play a role in figuring out what tournaments they want to attend.

6. Check with your admin to make sure you’re on the same page with them

This is especially important if you’re a new team or if there’s major changes in your school’s policies. Make sure that you know how to properly fill out a travel request form (if you have one), a reimbursement form (if you’ll need one), or any other documentation that’s required in your capacity as a sponsor. Check with your principal early about reserving the school for tournaments and clearing up any potential conflicts before the year begins. Your goal here is to reduce uncertainty as much as possible since changing the date of a tournament or having to deal with unexpected paperwork during the year can be rather annoying. It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with them throughout the year to keep them posted about how your team does and ensure they know how much you’re working.

7. Ask for help if needed

If you have an unusual situation or just a question about things, ask! Email several local coaches or members of a local quizbowl organization and see if they can help. The quizbowl community is usually quite willing to offer advice and tournament hosts might be able to do things to help your team (for instance, if you’re taking a train that gets in a few minutes after the start of the tournament, the tournament director could make sure your team gets a bye in the first round if that works with the format).

Final Thoughts:

The best thing that a coach can do is to give their team as many opportunities to compete as possible and to shape the culture of the team to be one of learning, support, and friendly competition. This doesn’t require that much of a time commitment overall, but it does require some upfront investment. This approach also allows students to develop more leadership and logistical skills on their own–something very valuable for their own development and good opportunities for the kind of leadership desired in selective college applications.

Pennsylvania Novice Question Set Now Posted on quizbowlpackets.com

The 2016 Pennsylvania Novice set, written and edited by the members of GPQB and Pennsylvania’s broader quizbowl community, is now posted online on quizbowlpackets.com. This set was our attempt to pioneer a novice question set that was a bit more challenging than SCOP but more accessible than a NAQT A-set. There are also a few PA-specific Easter eggs in there.

With the rather amusing exception of a Georgia tournament that used the set for an extremely competitive varsity-level competition, I think the data showed that we did a pretty good job hitting our target, though the bonuses skewed a little harder than expected on the third parts. While we did not produce a PA Novice set this year, the Philly Cheesesteak set has ably stepped into the void (and is still available for mirrors if you want a novice set to mirror in your part of the state! follow the link for details).

Check out the PA Novice packets here. These would be great practice material for freshmen and sophomores at more experienced programs and for all players at programs relatively new to quizbowl.

 

How to Be a Good Teammate

Apart from studying and practicing, another important part of quizbowl is figuring out how to work together effectively with your team. Here are ten pieces of advice I try to follow on being a better teammate:

  1. Treat everyone with respect. It should go without saying, but simply being kind helps to create a more welcoming environment at team practices and events. Every player, regardless of experience level or any part of their identity, should feel comfortable being around you.
  2. Avoid constantly pulling rank. Especially if you hold a leadership position like team captain or club president, make sure you aren’t distancing yourself from your teammates. Being friendly and easy to talk to helps with team cohesion, which in turn results in stronger performances.
  3. Go into each match with an open mind. Even if you’re a small, inexperienced team up against a powerhouse, just try your best; upsets can happen! An overly pessimistic mindset won’t help your team’s overall attitude and performance.
  4. Pay attention while the bonus is being read. Don’t be that one person who zones out and wastes precious seconds of conferral time asking teammates to reconstruct the question. And if you’re paying attention and a teammate does happen to zone out, you can then nicely remind them what the question was asking.
  5. Listen to your teammates’ contributions on bonuses. As a first scorer, I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of ignoring valid suggestions from my teammates. Even if you answer the most tossups on your team, there will always be some topic that your teammates know better than you.
  6. Let go of your own negs. No one wants to play on a team with someone who’s still moping about a neg from six rounds ago.
  7. Let go of your teammates’ negs, too. Berating them for an incorrect answer doesn’t change the result and, if anything, will only distract you (and them) from getting upcoming questions.
  8. Stop worrying so much about your individual stats. During a game, you should be focused on trying to beat the team you’re playing against, not on trying to one-up your teammates’ individual stats. Having that all-star points-per-game is nice, but reckless vulching to solely inflate your own PPG isn’t.
  9. Compliment others’ buzzes. Obviously, keep conversation between questions to a minimum, but quickly saying “nice buzz!” or some equivalent is a friendly way to support another player and to make your teammate (or even a player on the other team) feel good for an impressive answer.
  10. Losing a close game isn’t any one person’s fault. There are usually at least twenty tossup-bonus cycles in a game and multiple players on each team, so don’t put all the blame on the one player who unfortunately negged tossup 20 to lose a match by 10 points.

Clearly, this isn’t a complete list of every aspect that goes into being a good teammate; feel free to come up with your own and comment below or tweet at us!

-Jackie

Quizbowl Summer Study Plans

With the end of the school year finally upon us, the summer break is an excellent opportunity for enterprising quizbowlers to get a head start on next season and learn more awesome stuff. Here are three tips for teams to think about during the break:

Read actual books/poems/plays/essays! Summer is a perfect time to compile a reading list and attempt books that you might have been introduced to during quizbowl. Actually reading a work will likely increase your chances of getting a good buzz on it during the season and will probably lead to a more lasting memory than flashcarding or just reading a summary. So go ahead and tackle those Shakespeare plays or Garcia Marquez novels.

Write up a store of practice questions, then share them with other members of your team. These could be on any subject, but the ideal would be to use the greater amount of free time to spend time going through the question-writing process and then sharing them with fellow members of your team. This might be useful for trying to close any holes that you noticed emerged over last season or if a senior with a strong subject specialty is graduating. Need to work on Religion? Assign someone religious holidays, another one religious texts, and another one various minor religions to write up questions and then share at a summer meet-up or over Skype/Google Video.

Read over the national championship sets from this year once they are available. PACE’s NSC has already been posted and is chock-full of good clues, interesting ideas, and grist for future question writers. NAQT’s HSNCT was available to teams who attended this year, but others can order copies of the set from NAQT here. And HSAPQ’s NASAT will be posted soon as well after some other mirrors of it (many open to high schoolers–check the HSquizbowl forums for details). Even if you’ve already played the sets, it can be immensely helpful to go back over them and note where you could have/should have buzzed and perhaps calculate how well your team did at various subject areas.

Do you have any other ideas for what you’ll be doing with your team? Feel free to post ’em in the comments! 

How to Get the Most out of Practices and Tournaments: Get a Notebook

Every moment that you have a buzzer in your hand while playing quizbowl, you should also have a notebook open next to you ready to take notes in. Here’s a page from mine:

20161130_002328.jpg

I really should’ve gotten that Turenne TU. Also, it’s apparently “Siqueiros,” not my more Greek spelling here.

This notebook has been with me since 2006 at my very first national championship tournament. I tried to make sure to put at least one clue that was associated with each answerline down so that I could remember and, ideally, not miss it again. I also wrote down answerlines that sounded interesting or things that I wanted to look up later.

Why bring such a low-tech thing as a notebook to practices and tournaments and not some fancy flashcard program like Anki or an app like QuizBug on Quinterest? First, actually writing things down can help you remember them more effectively than typing them on a computer. Something about the process of writing by hand just seems to stick better.

Second, a notebook is much more portable and useful for a quick glance during downtime en route to tournaments and at practices and tournaments. In between rounds and waiting for the next one to start? Take a quick glance at your notebook. Stuck on a long bus ride up to the next tournament? Peruse your notebook.

Third, with a notebook you have something to do during other teams’ bonuses and tossups on things you definitely have no shot of getting. Too many players just zone out; having a notebook open and ready to write or circle things can be useful to keep your attention on the match. Open it to a blank page for each match and you can even keep score with it too or keep track of the categories for each question (very useful in tournaments with a fixed question distribution so that you can figure out which categories have yet to come up).

And fourth, when you return from a tournament or practice, you can refer to your notebook as a way to review what you learned and figure out where you could improve, especially if you start noticing patterns of what you missed. If you again mixed up Manet and Monet, get them straight by making separate powerpoints of their work. If you mispronounced a play title, this is your chance to learn it now and forever. But if you don’t keep a notebook, you won’t necessarily remember what you need to work on.

A caveat: you shouldn’t write write down everything that you hear in a match in a notebook. Just focus on clues and answerlines in your areas of knowledge or things that sounded interesting. Make sure that you go up and look at those later–you can then incorporate things that you missed into those other study technologies.

You can also write down lists of related things that you want to review during and before tournaments in the same notebook so that you can quickly flip through to study those. For instance, here were some wars I decided to write down while jumping through an old all-history tournament packets:

20161130_000742.jpg

Remember, this was for college nationals. Don’t feel like you need to know these wars for your average HS tournament!

This is all part of a larger quest to help maximize your study time in quizbowl. Every practice you should leave having learned new things. Every tournament you should leave having learned new things. Spinning your wheels and expecting to learn by osmosis will not work out very well. Zoning out during questions in practice and repeatedly missing the same clues won’t work very well. But maximizing your time spent in a chair holding a buzzer will make your quizbowl experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Remember, if something comes up at one quizbowl tournament, there’s an excellent chance it will come up in some form at another quizbowl tournament later.

This is the beauty of a notebook–it gives you something to do and read at all times that will help you get better at quizbowl. Get one and use it well.

-Chris 

GPQB Podcast Episode #10: Making Sense of Packet Sets and Difficulty

In the 10th Episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben and Chris discuss different types of quizbowl questions that teams can practice on, from novice to nationals-level packets, and how the difficulty levels differ between different packet sets. Ever wondered what the differences were between “IS” and “IS-A” NAQT questions or where to look for novice questions? This is your guide.

Click here to listen.

Some of the websites mentioned in this podcast include:
The Quizbowl Packet Archive
NAQT 
Quinterest 

How to Invite Teams to Quizbowl Tournaments

Summer is here, but it’s time to start planning next year’s tournaments! Here’s a guide to getting in touch with teams when you’re hosting a tournament: 

One of the most basic questions that teams face when they host a quizbowl tournament is how to get in touch with other schools to invite them to said tournament. While posting a tournament announcement on the HSQB forums and getting your tournament on the GPQB regional schedule are good starting points, you need to invite teams directly as well.

In a few areas of the country, paper invitations mailed to schools are still the standard method of communicating about tournaments. Based on the results of randomly-assigned contact methods that I tried last year, however, in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey email seems to be by far more effective than snail mail in getting a response. So how do you write a good email invitation to a quizbowl tournament?

Personalize Your Invitations. Ideally, the invitation email should be personalized. This helps get past spam filters and immediate deletions; people are just more likely to read an email actually addressed to them than a generic “Dear Coaches” or “To all quizbowl coaches” mass BCC email. Yes, this takes a bit more work, but not that much and the higher response rate that it generates is well worth the effort.

Keep It Short! You want your email to be short and to the point rather than a mass of text. Avoid as much quizbowl jargon and acronyms as possible (remember Strunk and White) and use links judiciously to provide an opportunity for interested recipients to look up more information on their own. Your initial goal is to get a response if people are interested in the general idea of the tournament, at which point you can then provide more information. Educators get dozens of pieces of email every day; you want your invitation to be easily read and understood by your recipient.

Consider Your Audience. A principal at a school that has never played quizbowl before is a very different audience from a quizbowl coach of a team that regularly plays many pyramidal tournaments. There are also some coaches at schools who play local non-pyramidal tournaments and may never have had direct contact with the broader quizbowl circuit before. Figure out which type of school you’re emailing for each and generate a general template for each type that you can then personalize. For instance, if the school calls their team a “Knowledge Bowl” or “Academic Challenge” team, be sure to use that language in the email.

How to Find Contact Information. To get email addresses, I always recommend using school websites. While some websites are more functional than others, you can usually find a list of activities/extracurriculars with sponsors as well as a faculty directory to match up the name of the sponsor with an email. If you can’t find a current team or sponsor, you can try emailing the director of student activities (if the school has one), the vice-principal or dean in charge of student activities (if they have one listed), or just the principal or head of school. NAQT also has a listing of some coaches and contacts for teams that you can search within, although they might not be current since sponsors often vary from year to year. You might also ask other tournament hosts in your area very, very nicely for their contact lists from previous years.

Quizbowl Tournament Invitation Email Templates

Below, I’ve provided some examples of tournament invitation emails that got solid results in the past. “Solid results” doesn’t mean that all of them got responses; I’d say my overall response rate has been about 20%, but that’s still fairly high, so don’t be discouraged if you only get a few replies to your invites initially.  You should feel free to modify these templates as you see fit with local traditions, such as different local terms for quizbowl like “Academic Challenge,” “Knowledge Bowl,” “Brain Bowl,” etc.

Invitation to a school without a quizbowl team:

Dear ___[Contact Person; use “Dr.” or “Principal” as needed]____,

The __[Your Team’s Name]______ Quizbowl Team would like to invite ___[Invitee]__  to compete at our ___[Tournament Name]_____, a quizbowl tournament to be held at __[location]__ on _[date]__.

Quizbowl is a team-based academic knowledge competition that’s a bit like a team version of Jeopardy! with more academically rigorous questions. The topics asked about encompass the whole of the high school curriculum from literature, history, and science to fine arts, the social sciences, and mythology. To get an idea of what quizbowl questions are like, see a brief explanation here and some sample packets of questions here.

The tournament should last from approximately ______ to _______ with a break for lunch; more logistical details will be sent closer to the tournament for teams who register. A list of teams registered and other logistical details will be updated ______[link to your tournament on the HSQB forums]______.

Let us know if you think ____[Invited School’s]____ students might be interested in competing. We enjoy seeing new schools experience quizbowl for the first time and we’d be happy to work with a faculty sponsor and/or interested students to help get a quizbowl team started.

Sincerely,
-_____[Your Name]______
Tournament Director, ___[Your Tournament]____

One thing that I particularly like about this template is that it can be targeted to a principal or a head of school, but it subtly suggests at the end that the principal should delegate responsibility to a teacher or student. Principals are a good point of contact, but they rarely actually sponsor teams, so you want the principal to forward the email out to the faculty members to increase your pool of potential sponsors. This works even better if the principal directly asks for a volunteer to start a team.

You might even want to make this “help start a team” part of the email more direct, especially at the start of a school year when schools are deciding on extracurriculars for the year. Note that these emails to schools without a quizbowl team are probably the most effective just before or right at the start of a school year; most schools will not start a new club late in the school year, although you can still try to get an existing team to come.

Here’s a sample invitation for a team that has a quizbowl-like team, but only plays in a local league or on a local TV tournament. To get an idea of what they call their team (common variations on quizbowl in PA include Scholastic Scrimmage, Academic Competition, Academic Challenge, Academic Bowl), check out the school’s website first.

Invitation to a school with a team, but not a regular quizbowl attendee:

Dear ___[Contact Name]___,

The ____[Your School’s Club]____ Quizbowl Team would like to invite ___[Invited School]____’s ____[Name of the Format or TV Show]____ team to compete at our ____[Tournament Name]_____, a quizbowl tournament to be held at __[location]___ on ___[date]___.

Quizbowl is similar to _____[Name of the Format or TV Show]___ in testing academic knowledge and using a buzzer-based format, so our tournament would likely be useful preparation for _____[Name of the Format or TV Show]____. You can read more about the style of questions that we will be using at our tournament here. Our tournament will also be a qualifier for ___[insert national championship(s) as needed here; usually every tournament can be a PACE qualifier, but only tournaments on NAQT questions can be direct NAQT qualifiers]______.

The tournament will begin at approximately __[start time]_ and last until about ___[expected end time]___ with a lunch break. All teams will be guaranteed at least __[total number of]___ games, including ___[games in the rebracketed playoffs]___ against opponents of similar ability. For additional logistical details, please see our post ____[link to HSQB forum post]_____.

Let us know if we can answer any questions about our tournament or the world of quizbowl in general. We’d love to see ___[Invited School]____ at our tournament in ____[month]____!

Sincerely,
-_____[Your Name]______
Tournament Director, ___[Your Tournament]____

This letter does several things: it makes it clear that you know a bit about their school already by correctly calling their team by the name that they use and are familiar with. It provides more specific logistical details compared to a new-to-quizbowl school (whom you don’t want to overwhelm with too much info in the initial email) to give contacts an idea of what to expect at a weekend pyramidal tournament. It ties into the local format by portraying your tournament as a practice opportunity to improve on that, which is what those coaches tend to initially value the most. And it mentions the wider world of quizbowl by mentioning the national championships (although if your tournament is a novice-only tournament or has a novice-only division, those are usually not national qualifiers, so don’t say that!).

You can also congratulate the school if you found that they won their local tournament or won their last TV match or something similar; it’s a nice gesture that shows you paid attention and again might catch the eye of an otherwise skeptical sponsor.

Invitations to regular quizbowl attendees are a bit easier to write so I won’t provide a template here, but be sure to provide the standard Who/What/When/Where and especially what question set you’re using. Regular attendees are also likely more interested in the format that you’ll be using, the rules for determining final placement, and who will get awards. You can usually save those specifics for a later email closer to the tournament date, but you should remember to send ’em out before the tournament at some point.

Again, these are just templates; feel free to modify them as you might need them for your area. But they seem to have worked in the past for us and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. You can also adapt this to a snail-mail invitation fairly easily. Just include say, a regional tournament schedule or more information about quizbowl on the back of the paper letter as well as your email address. Good luck hosting!

Quizbowl National Championships: A Guide

One sometimes-confusing aspect of quizbowl is the presence of multiple tournaments that claim to be the “national championship” of quizbowl and similar academic competitions (Scholars Bowl, Brain Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, Academic Challenge, etc.). For teams and coaches, getting multiple emails throughout the year telling you that you qualified for different national championships can be a bit of a baffling experience.

This is a brief guide to explaining what these tournaments are, which ones have fair questions and formats (and which ones do not), and how your team can qualify to attend the ones that will provide the best experience for your team and players.

The Quizbowl National Championships:

 NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016):
The Hilton Anatole, Dallas TX
Location (2017): Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA
Field Size:
Approximately 272 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Questions:
Written by NAQT and follows the NAQT HSNCT distribution. The difficulty is significantly harder than regular IS-sets and the questions are slightly longer than regular IS questions. 
Format:
10 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 16 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 6-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all 7-3 or better teams; 6-4 teams start off in the loser’s bracket and are eliminated with one loss. 
How to Qualify:
Finish in the top 15% of any tournament that uses NAQT questions. NAQT highlights those teams in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results:
Available from NAQT’s website from 1999 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
Comments:
HSNCT has rapidly grown into the largest national championship, with over a thousand players taking over a hotel each year to play quizbowl. The power-matching format used in the preliminaries usually ensures that each match pits you against a team more and more similar to your team’s skill level, so the matches tend to be close. The double-elimination format of the playoffs also can be exciting to participate in or watch, though making the playoffs can involve a little bit of luck of the draw for many teams close to the middle of the pack.


PACE’s National Scholastic Championship (NSC)

Sponsor: Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE
Location (in 2016 and 2017):
Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL (a suburb of Chicago next to O’Hare International Airport) 
Field Size:
Approximately 96 teams (based on the 2015 field)
Questions:
Written by PACE members. The distribution is similar to the college ACF distribution and tossups are often 6-8 lines, with 20 point (instead of the usual 15 point) powers and no negs for incorrect answers. Unlike the HSNCT, there are no pop culture questions at the NSC and more of an emphasis on the fine arts and the humanities. Bonuses are bouncebacks, meaning that if one team misses a bonus part the other team gets a chance to answer that part for points. Similar to HSNCT, the difficulty level for the NSC is significantly higher compared to most regular season high school tournaments. 
Format:
Seeded preliminary pools initially, then rebracketed playoff pools, then another rebracket to superplayoff and final placement pools. Basically, every team continues playing games that help determine final placement throughout the tournament. This also means that all teams play at least 18 games (!) over the two days of the tournament. 
How to Qualify:
Qualification depends on finishing highly at various PACE-affiliated tournaments. Almost every quizbowl tournament on good questions is PACE-affiliated, but the exact percentage of teams that qualify from each tournament depends on what level of certification PACE awards. See this page for a more detailed explanation, but in general the top 20-25% of the field qualifies. Wildcards are also available like with NAQT by emailing with a record. 
Previous Results:
Available on PACE’s website here
Comments: I
f you want lots and lots of quizbowl, the NSC gives you the most matches out of any of these tournaments on one of the best-written question sets of the year (see last year’s set here). The NSC field tends to be more “elite” on average than the HSNCT, so a team that finishes at 5-5 in the middle of the pack at HSNCT may finish in the lower tiers of NSC and with a much higher percentage of losses. Some teams prefer the bounce-back bonus format of the NSC since it keeps all teams listening on the bonus regardless of which team got the toss-up question.

NAQT’s Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT)


Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016 and 2017):
 The Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont (Chicago Area) IL 
Field Size:
Approximately 80 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Questions:
Written by NAQT and follows the standard NAQT distribution. The difficulty is approximately the same, if slightly tougher, than regular IS-sets.
Format:
9 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 11 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 5-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all schools with records of 6-3 or better and single-elimination for those at 5-4.
What NAQT defines as a “Small School”: [Via NAQT’s website] “A public high school with 500 or fewer students in grades 10-12 that has a non-selective admissions policy. This excludes all private schools, magnet schools, and home school collectives; it also excludes some charter schools.”
How to Qualify:
[Via NAQT’s website] “Finishing in the top 30% of the small schools at a high school varsity tournament that uses NAQT questions and includes teams from at least three schools (of any size). This includes traditional one-day tournaments, leagues, televised tournaments, and all other events that use questions provided by NAQT whether or not they use NAQT’s official format and rules.” NAQT highlights those teams qualifying for the SSNCT separately in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results: Available from NAQT’s website from 2014 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
Comments:
SSNCT is a great option for smaller schools, from open-admission urban charter schools to rural schools that might not have the resources and student base as larger schools. You can listen to some previous SSNCT matches to get an idea of the level of competition here.

 

HSAPQ’s National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)


Sponsor:
High School Academic Pyramid Questions (HSAPQ
Location (2016):
The University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 
Field Size:
12 (although maximum is as many states that register) 
Questions:
Written by HSAPQ at a very high level comparable to a normal-difficulty college tournament. Distribution is here.  
Format:
A round-robin followed by rebracketed playoffs 
How to Qualify: 
Since this is an All-Star tournament, all states are eligible to send a team. Pennsylvania’s team last year was selected by tryouts and looking at individual statistics from tournaments. If you are interested in competing against the best high school players of each state on very challenging questions, this is your tournament. The 2015-2016 PA NASAT teams can be seen here
Previous Results:
See here.

 


A few frequently-asked questions about the HSNCT and the NSC:

Which national championship should my team attend?

Besides their different locations (which usually rotate every year), the biggest differences between the national championships are the timed rounds at HSNCT vs. the untimed rounds at the NSC and the different question distributions at each. The use of timed rounds at HSNCT adds new strategic elements and means that readers tend to go a lot faster, making games a little bit more frantic. You can see video of the finals of the 2016 HSNCT here to get an idea of what it’s like. Small schools should definitely consider attending SSNCT, but can also attend HSNCT as well if they’re up for the challenge.

The distribution of the question subjects for each tournament also varies in small but important ways: the HSNCT question distribution has more current events, geography, and pop culture/sports; the NSC has more fine arts, more religion, myth, and philosophy, and no pop culture. The formats of each tournament also differ slightly as outlined above. One nice thing about having two national championships is that if you can’t make one due to graduation or prom, the other is still a possibility. Either of these are a good option for teams looking for a challenge and a fun end-of-season trip.

When can/should you register for a national championship?

You should register as soon as possible after you qualify and work quickly to firm up travel and payment plans. The HSNCT and NSC fields historically get close to filling up by late February. While you can get a spot on a waitlist and hope slots open up  later (which tends to happen at the HSNCT in particular), by late March both fields are likely completely filled. Note that both tournaments are now requiring that schools pay a deposit by some point to reserve spots in the field due to high demand, so it’s crucial that you start making arrangements to attend as soon as possible and perhaps budget for nationals attendance at the start of the year if you think you’ll be likely to qualify.

How do we get a wild card into these tournaments?

At a certain date, the HSNCT, SSNCT, and the NSC will open up applications for wild card teams. You should have a good reason explaining why you were not able to normally qualify, such as a lack of tournaments nearby to attend or consistently finishing just out of the qualification level at many tournaments against good teams. Just applying for a wild card does not mean you will be accepted–you need a good reason and must demonstrate strong results to get a wild card to either national.

Can multiple teams from the same school qualify for nationals?

Yes, but generally they must qualify at the same tournament. If Franklin High wants both its A and B teams to qualify for nationals, both teams must finish in the top percentage of the field at the same tournament. If Franklin A qualifies at one tournament (but not Franklin B) and then at the next tournament Franklin B qualifies (but not Franklin A), Franklin can still only send 1 team from Franklin to the national championship. Some schools have sent A, B, C, D, and even E teams to nationals (and done quite well).

Are there special divisions for schools of different sizes?

NAQT runs a separate Small School National Championship Tournament. If you are a non-selective, public high school with fewer than 500 students in grades 10-12, definitely take a look into the SSNCT, which runs on a separate set of NAQT questions at a different location than the HSNCT, usually sometime in April. PACE awards a top small-school title at the NSC, but small schools compete normally alongside other schools. Otherwise, all schools compete together.

Should we attend a national championship even if we know that we won’t win?

Even if you’re not in the running to win, you get to play the best teams from around the country and see just how well you measure up to teams outside of your local region. Knocking off a “name-brand” team or getting revenge on a rival local team can be great fun and just getting a few questions against the best teams in the country can be a rewarding experience. There’s also something about being in the same building as thousands of others involved in quizbowl and getting to meet people from all around the country. You’ll also have the best readers in the country flown in to read some of the toughest yet still well-written questions of the year. The final matches at these tournaments are always open to the public and are often thrilling to watch.

That said, quizbowl nationals are expensive, with a minimum of $800 or so for hotel and registration fees plus the cost of travel. You can attend a lot of other quizbowl tournaments with that funding, so consider your team’s interests and goals early on in the year so that if you do qualify for nationals, you can make sure you can secure the funding (hosting a tournament or two can really help with the cost too). Many teams enjoy the chance to travel and give seniors an appropriate send-off on the best competition quizbowl has to offer.

 



Other Competitions that claim to be “National Championships”

An organization known as Questions Unlimited runs a competition they call the National Academic Championship (NAC). At one time, decades ago, the NAC was the only game in town. Today, however, the NAC has four major problems that make it the quizbowl equivalent of college basketball’s NIT and not an actual national championship in the eyes of GPQB. In fact, we strongly advise schools to stay as far away from the NAC as possible based on the following issues:

Poorly Written Questions
A defining feature of the NAC is a lack of commitment to good quizbowl practices in question-writing, as documented rather extensively here. While there are some quasi-pyramidal questions, the vast majority appear to focus on trivial details and lead to buzzer races. Others also have swerves, hoses, and other aspects of bad quizbowl. One infamous “audio” question asked teams to identify the sound of a blender; others asked about the sounds of barnyard animals. Widely varying difficulty and distributions contribute to the unevenness of the outcomes. In short, the NAC’s questions are, in the opinion of GPQB, extraordinarily unfair to the players and a poor platform for academic competition.

A History of Plagiarism and Question Recycling
Last year, a team at the NAC actually stopped a match because it had heard the exact questions before in a practice packet. This would be unthinkable at any other national quizbowl tournament and exemplifies the history of plagiarism and question-recycling in the NAC.

An Unwieldy and Unfair Format 
The preliminary matches at NAC seem to be very roughly (if at all) seeded, which can lead to lopsided preliminary schedules of widely varying difficulty for different teams (a problem that’s compounded by the use of total points scored for playoff seeding). Unlike other national championships, only 6 games are guaranteed and those are read in an odd game-show-like environment with the focus on the “host” rather than the players.  The playoffs at each tournament site also are single elimination and the winners of each of the three sites come together to play weeks after some of them last played. This, suffice to say, does not seem like a fair format for determining a national champion.

The Best Teams Do Not Play NAC
The repudiation of NAC from former players, coaches, and even former NAC moderators has been nothing short of extraordinary in the past decade. As this graph shows, over time the NAC’s field has been surpassed in number by the HSNCT field. Almost all of the top 200 quizbowl teams in the country on the Morlan HSQBRank poll choose PACE or NAQT over NAC and more continue to abandon NAC every year, further diluting the NAC’s field strength. Additionally, more and more teams at the NAC come from a smaller handful of states like Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New York.

Few teams play both the NAC and the other nationals, but when they have played in good quizbowl tournaments the NAC attendees have not come off well. For instance, the national NAC runner-up in 2015, Lusher Charter, finished 59th at the NSC; a year before, the NAC runner-up in 2014, Pingry, finished 63rd at the NSC.

Put all these together and there is no good reason to attend the NAC. Going there only supports a bad quizbowl organization and will deprive your team of a legitimate national championship experience. If your team does not qualify for a good quizbowl national during the year but you still would like to travel, we recommend attending a regular-season tournament in April of May further away than normal.

Some other competitions also claim to be “national championships” of buzzer-based competitions, but those have even less claim than the NAC. The “National Tournament of Academic Excellence” [currently on hiatus] only attracts a small handful of random schools from a few states to Disney World to play a few very expensive rounds of bad quizbowl. “Hi-Q” sometimes claims to decide a national champion by a Skype match, but they’re only playing a tiny number of other schools from a few very specific geographic regions. And there may be others out there. But for our purposes, the only quizbowl national championships are the HSNCT, the NSC, the SSNCT and the NASAT.