GPQB Podcast Episode #15: Interview with Coach Bern McCauley

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

Click here to listen or download.

GPQB Interviews: Missy Doll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Missy for taking time to answer our questions!

GPQB Interviews Bill Tressler

Today we will be doing what we hope will be the first in a long series of interviews with Philadelphia area quizbowl personalities to pick the brains of some of our finest. First up we will be interviewing Bill Tressler, a longtime quizbowler who coached Wilmington Charter from 2002 to 2010. Under Bill’s tutelage, Charter went from a local to a national power and captured victories at both major Quizbowl nationals in 2009. Today you can see him as a frequent moderator at area Middle and High school events.

1) How did you first become involved with quizbowl?

I grew up in central Pennsylvania in an area where few schools had quiz teams. (That is sadly still true today.) The only competition I got to do in high school was a television tournament sponsored by a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton station. We finished 2nd out of 16 teams and I got a $750 scholarship.

I did my undergraduate degree at Dickinson College and played on the team there. I also attended Carnegie Mellon and Delaware for graduate degrees and spent some time with both of those teams.

2) How did you end up coaching Charter?

I had been the coach at the Sanford School prior to my tenure at Charter. After 3 years I decided I was going to look for a new position, and Delaware player (and Charter alum) Mark Pellegrini mentioned to me that the computer science teacher at Charter was retiring. I immediately sent in a resume.

Beenu Gupta had been Charter’s coach, but she gladly gave me the academic team because she was also involved in Science Olympiad and Environathon.

3) During your time coaching, Philadelphia had few teams attending invitationals or doing pyramidal events. How did you deal with getting Charter ready to play the best teams from quizbowl-rich areas?

It took a while. In fact, I’m not sure I took the team out of state in the ’02-’03 season until we went to Nationals in Myrtle Beach. We started 0-2 because they weren’t used to that caliber of competition. But they quickly adjusted, made the playoffs, and picked up two wins on Sunday before going out in the group tied for 8th. That was back when nationals had “only” had 64 teams.

Each year we added a few more bus trips to the schedule. We always enjoyed going to Brother Nigel Pratt’s Long Island Fall Tournament, and eventually started going down to the D.C. area because that’s where many good teams were competing.

4) What about your 2009 team do you think was special, getting them over the hump to win nationals?

By the 2008 nationals, the team was already in the top 4, so the table was set. Henry Gorman and Neeraj Vijay were returning. We lost Raja Vel and Byron Pierce, but David Huang and Crabby Berni had similar strengths.

’08-’09 was a rough year. The team really wanted to take down one or both nationals, so every time we suffered a loss, the pressure mounted. People got mad over the smallest mistakes that any other team could just laugh off.

Somehow, everything fell into place — and it was very close right up until the end. In our PACE playoff bracket, we took a loss to Walter Johnson (MD). And then our match against Hunter (NY) went all the way to the last tossup. If that tossup had gone the other way, we probably would have finished 5th.

The final was a similar story — we led the whole match only to see State College (PA) pull ahead by powering tossup 20. All they needed to do was get one bonus part to win. Instead, they got zero the bonus and we won because we got 20 points on the bouncebacks.

The level of competition that year and the parity among the top six or seven teams was just insane. What got us over the hump? Quite a bit of luck.

5) What was the wackiest quizbowl match you saw as a coach? Player?

I don’t know if this counts as wacky, but one of my favorite memories our match against New Trier (IL) at the 2007 HSNCT. After 8 tossups, the score was something like New Trier 180, Wilmington Charter -5. Somehow, we slowly chipped our way back into the game and ended up winning by 5 points on the last question.

6) What ways did you find most effective at encouraging students to get better? Did you have lots of general principles or handle things on a case by case basis?

I was fortunate in that I taught at a magnet school. The students wanted to do well, I just had to provide the opportunity.

If you want to score points, you have to know the canon. If you don’t know who wrote “The Prince” and who painted “The School of Athens”, you’re not going to win many matches.

We had NAQT’s Frequency Lists, plus a few others we had generated ourselves, and I passed them out to players all the time. Then during practice, I would write down things the players missed but needed to know, and asked the same questions at the following practice.

The Internet now has plenty of study material for players who put in the time. That didn’t exist when I first started playing quizbowl.

7) Any advice for new coaches?

It takes a while to build your program. And you always have to be working on “the next generation.” So it’s important to take two or three teams to tournaments.

If you have to limit the size of your team, make sure to include the youngest grade at your school. Even when we had to have tryouts because I just couldn’t take any more team members, I always took the best 5 or 6 freshmen. My thinking was that the first year is about hearing the same topics come up again week after week. So by a player’s third or fourth year of quizbowl, they get those points with little difficulty.

Thanks to Bill Tressler for doing this Interview. -Ben Herman