by Susanna Chen for Walkersville High School Lion’s Pride
Nine people sit on the stage intently listening to the lively cadence of the host as he recites the question: Who is the chief of the Norse gods? In fractions of a second, each player instinctively leaps from their chair as if stung by an electric shock, feuding to beat the others to the buzzer.
On October 8, Walkersville competed against Atholton and Calvert Hall on It’s Academic!, a televised competition which tests high school students’ knowledge of academic topics in a quiz bowl format.
Prior to the competition, the team prepared with practices twice a week following the game to develop a strategy emphasizing teamwork and timing. Coach John Van Bloem advises players to “wait until you know what’s being asked in the question and then making sure you know the answer.”
Though it is an essential component, dexterity in this type of competition requires more than a comprehensive knowledge regarding each president or every great literary figure. Factual information creates the foundation for an effective team, but the ability to interweave each member’s playing style and knowledge into a single unit is also integral in developing an adept team.
Coaches Van Bloem and Darrin Drum took this into account when practicing for the matches and aimed to cultivate a team that is able to complement each other in terms of playing style and knowledge, with each player specializing in a specific area. Competitor Caleb Chen said, “Ryan’s skilled in history and geography. I’d say Joey is skilled in math and history. I’d say my strengths are maybe pop culture and the arts.”
Drum stated, “I think that they work really well together as a team. Each player knows different things and they know what each other know…By knowing what they know, it’s always helpful for the team to play into each other. And say, ‘Wait a minute, I know that you know this, so why don’t you answer this.’”
As mentioned by competitor Joey Moss, much of the team’s strengths rely in their cooperation. He stated, “I think that we know what each other know more than other teams do. I feel like we have more chemistry this year than in the past.”
However, the outcome of the game still heavily depends on the skill of the opposing teams. Van Bloem added, “Even if you have a strong team, if the other teams are very strong too then you might get outplayed.”
Prior to the start of the game, a buzz of anticipation fills the air as the team manages a bit of last minute practice. There is a subtle tension, but experience with the game alleviates some of the players’ nerves.
“I’ve been on there twice already and I know how it feels to lose on the show twice,” said Chen with a chuckle.
“[I want to] just have fun…I feel slightly nervous but not super,” stated Moss.
“I’m okay. I’m a little nervous,” said competitor Ryan Puthumana.
“Were cautiously optimistic,” stated Van Bloem, “I’m more nervous for them regardless of the outcome as long as they feel like they played their best.”
Family, friends, and competitors convened in the studio of WJZ Channel 13 to watch three teams of academically skilled students compete. A flashy blue arrangement and glaring studio lights illustrate the room with three tables in the front each labeled with a school name. At the indication of the television crew, a surge of enthusiastic cheering and clapping rose from the audience as a cowbell clanged in the background. With a rush of charisma, host Dave Zahren kickstarted the competition in his customary announcer voice and a zealous grin while blaring music from the 80s played.
During the first round, Walkersville gained an early lead with 60 points in a category on the Moon. “We had a dynamite opening round,” said Van Bloem, “We were fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better first round.” The following picture round, where questions are asked relating to a corresponding picture, resulted in a three way tie of 260 points. The same occurred in the third individual noncompetitive round, where each school answered seven out of the eight questions correctly. Walkersville stumbled on a question regarding auxin, a plant growth hormone. With a scoreboard of 400-400-400, the game was wagered evenly against all teams. The last round, a toss up of questions on varying topics, would determine the winner. The players fidgeted at their seats at how painfully close the score was. After a tense round, the score came to 460-420-450 with Atholton the winner and Walkersville with 420 points.
Though the outcome of the game was not in their favor, the ultimate loss did not considerably dampen the team’s spirits. Walkersville loss is not due to lack of effort, but rather an aggregate of small slips and conditions. The competition was of chance, where only a few questions determined the winner, designating the game as a matter of odds between three evenly matched teams.
“I feel satisfied in some weird way because we did our best. We didn’t mess up really badly. We fulfilled our potential…I feel like everyone contributed their share,” said Chen.
“I feel slightly disappointed…I think we just played against two really good teams.I think we played a really good game. I’m not sure how we can improve,” said Moss.
“I’m happy that we played such a good game, a little disappointed, but happy overall…[The loss was because of] two tough teams. It was a great match. I think everybody did their best, but a couple of little questions made a difference,” stated Drum.
“I don’t know if there was anything we could’ve done better in the preparation,” said Van Bloem, “I’m really pleased with the team. The team played extremely well and they definitely represented walkersville extremely well…Maybe if we played that match again, it would turn out differently. Going into the last round and you’re tied, what else do you want from your team? You’re obviously giving your all. You’re obviously trying as hard as you can.”
“I think they did superbly,” commented Zahren, “I think Caleb was a good captain. He brought the experience. Joey and Ryan, they were new, but they still had a lot of confidence and they contributed. As you noticed, it was anyone’s game because it was close.”