Quiz teams from three Fulton County high schools will use their brain power at the nationwide competition this weekend in Illinois.
Swanton, Pettisville, and Evergreen high schools will represent the area at the small school National Academic Quiz Tournament (NAQT) in Rosemont, a Chicago suburb. They will go up against 79 other schools in the public school division and 72 schools in the open division which includes private and charter schools.
With its strong finish at the Hicksville Invitational, the quiz bowl team from Swanton High School proved themselves worthy to play on a national stage. On Friday, May 3 the team will represent their school in a 143-team national competition: National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ Small School National Championship Tournament.
Quiz bowl is a competitive, academic, interscholastic activity for teams of four students. Quiz bowl teams use buzzers to answer questions about science, math, history, literature, mythology, geography, social science, current events, sports, and popular culture.
The matches feature a blend of individual competition and team collaboration, since no individual player is likely to be an expert in all subject areas. Participation in quiz bowl both reinforces lessons from the classroom and encourages players to develop new intellectual interests.
Swanton has attended the Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT) two times before. Most recently, in 2018, they finished 4-6.
“This season’s been a lot of fun for me because we qualified for nationals back in November, so I’ve been able to sit back a little more and just enjoy watching my team play,” said Swanton Coach Josh Eppert. “We’re hoping to do well on our first day at nationals so that we can play in the final rounds on Sunday, something we’ve not yet been able to do over the past two years in Chicago.”
The SSNCT in suburban Rosemont, Ill. is the only quiz bowl national championship pitting small schools against each other. It has one division containing non-selective public schools with 500 or fewer students in their top three grades, and another division for other schools with 350 or fewer students in their top three grades. Last year’s tournament featured 96 public-school teams and 64 charter and private-school teams from across the United States. Glasgow High School from Kentucky won the public-school championship for the second year in a row, and the Early College at Guilford of Greensboro, N.C. won the Open Division title.
The team comes in with some nationals experience: Thomas Chonko, Haiden Gombash, Seth Rains, and Colton Santchi played the 2018 Small School National Championship Tournament.
“What stands out to me about the team this year is that they’ve been able to remain light-hearted and laugh, even in the most difficult matches we’ve played,” said Eppert. “Most of the varsity team has been playing for the past three to four years, so they’re very experienced and can generally stay relaxed and focused while playing.”
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The Pettisville High School quiz team will test its knowledge at the countrywide competition Saturday, May 4.
Seven-year head coach Rebecca Dorosz will accompany 28 of the high school quiz team’s 32 members to the competition, although not all will participate. She said this year’s team is more balanced after Jacob Myers, last year’s top scorer, graduated. His absence was initially a point of concern.
“It was really exciting for these kids as they gained success as a team,” she said.
It’s the second year the school district qualified for NAQT. Both the Pettisville A and B teams qualified for both the large and small school divisions but opted to attend the small school tournament. That one brings together schools with 500 or fewer students in the top three grades.
The team qualified for nationals at an NAQT-sanctioned tournament in Hicksville, Ohio, Nov. 10. It also competed in a NAQT tournament Pettisville High School hosted, where it finished second overall; and in a Toledo league from October to February, where it finished fifth out of 25 teams. The Pettisville junior varsity quiz team also participated in the latter, and was undefeated.
In Ohio league tournaments, the Pettisville High School team won the Fulton-Henry County tournament and was both the overall winner and the tournament winner in the Northern Buckeye Academic League (NBAL); that combined win was a first in the school’s history. Winning that tournament qualified the team for the Ohio Academic Competition, where it finished second overall in the northwest Ohio region and qualified for the state tournament May 11 in Bexley, Ohio, near Columbus.
Dorosz said the team prefers the NAQT style of questioning, in which a question starts out difficult but adds more general knowledge as it progresses. Daily study sessions and scrimmages are available to members, who cull facts from books, practice materials, and computer sources.
“We study content, but also learn how to specialize,” said Dorosz, who is also an English teacher. “It becomes a lot about taking risks and controlling your brain under pressure.”
In NAQT competitions, students who answer a question very early are “in power” – that is, receive a five-point bonus. But answering wrongly leads to negative points. That means team members must keep a cool head.
“That calm is what we really work on,” Dorosz said. “Just as in sports, it’s important to train your body…In the same way, we practice the pressure, the moment in the game when you’ve had to trust your knowledge, your brain’s ability to think. It really is a lot about trusting instincts.”
She added: “That’s our strategy: The risk is okay. It leads to rewards.”
PHS senior Zach Basselman has been on both the junior varsity and varsity quiz teams. “It’s a great opportunity to use the knowledge that I’ve accumulated,” he said.
A student who displays their knowledge in a classroom setting is often met with eye-rolling from their peers, Basselman said. “When you’re on the quiz team people look up to you, and it’s a confidence booster,” he said.
Dorosz said, in fact, “we see a lot of payoff in the classroom. (Team members are) apt to desire more knowledge. They can out-quiz me any day, and it’s really impressive. I think it makes their world a little bit bigger…If anyone has a chance to watch one of these tournaments, you leave really impressed at what they do.”
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Bill Blanchong, coach of the Evergreen High School quiz team, said the 11-member team, 10 of whom are participating, also qualified for the NAQT large school competition but chose to concentrate on the small school division. He said the team members are so determined they chose to attend the NAQT event this weekend over prom.
It’s the EHS team’s third year at nationals; last year, it place 23rd out of 100 competing schools. The members will compete this Saturday with a goal of winning enough matches to also compete in Sunday finals.
The team qualified for a place at nationals following the tournament at Pettisville in March. But Blanchong said members have been working toward qualification since the team began scrimmaging in October. They practice twice weekly, typically participating in five tournaments during the school year. The team has also been involved in the NBAL, and has competed on competitions regularly broadcast on WNWO-TV 24 in Toledo and WBGU-TV 22 in Bowling Green.
The practices involve buzzing in to answer, like at competitions, and studying materials provided by NAQT. “We’re competitive. We definitely hold our own,” Blanchong said, particularly against Toledo-area high school teams.
“I encourage them to do their best, and definitely to know that they belong and can compete,” he said of team members. You really enjoy the experience. They get really excited about it.”
And though the competition can become intense, “they want to do well, and they think they can compete and do a nice job. “They represent our school really well, and we’re excited to go again.”
Tournament results will be updated throughout the three days of competition at https://bit.ly/2ILocFb so Fulton County residents can follow along and see how the teams do.
Reach Drew Stambaugh and David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.