OP Quiz Bowl Makes Strong 6-4 Showing in Nationals Preliminaries


Image courtesy of @OratoryPrep on Twitter: “The quiz bowl team did a fantastic job this weekend at the History Bowl nat’l champ pelims. Between Sat and Sunday the team went 6-4. OP beat Hamilton (AZ), Fayetteville-Manlius (NY),Jesuit (OR), Archimedean Upper Conservatory (FL), Dalton (NY), & Princeton (NJ).

Andrew Ashton, Staff Writer

Setting the (Virtual) Stage

Recently, our OP Quiz Bowl team spent their weekend in a bit of a different way than usual: a grueling set of ten matches over two days. On December 5th and 6th, we virtually competed in the preliminary rounds of a national competition with teams from all over the country. Our elite quiz squad consisted of Ryan BerghThies, Nicholas Scandlebury, Brian Kelly, Jaden Medina, Alex Han, and myself. Jaden Medina played with us on the first day, while I played the first nine matches before Alex Han arrived to relieve me of my post. The other three team members played all ten matches in a mental marathon that I would estimate to be closer to eleven or twelve hours than 10. As usual, club captain Ryan BerghThies was the MVP of the team. With a 6-4 win-loss record, the team clearly demonstrated our talent and why we deserved to be there.

For those who are not yet familiar with the Quiz Bowl club and the workings of the competition, please allow me to bring you up to speed. “Quiz bowl” is really closer to “history bowl”; almost all of the questions asked are about history, although there is a crossover with other subjects within art history, scientific history, and more. During competitions, there are four rounds per match. The first round is standard, with individual players “buzzing in” with an answer; if they get it right, then the team wins ten points, and if they get it wrong, their team cannot buzz in for the rest of that question (giving the other team free rein to wait and buzz in). The second round is the same, except that the person who gets it right gains the opportunity to earn another ten points in a bonus question that the whole team can confer on. The third round is a speed round, where each team (here, the one ahead went first, although normally it is the opposite) chose a category and tried to answer as many of the questions as possible while conferring among their team; each question they got wrong could be answered by the opposing team, so sometimes poorly-performing teams choose to “kill the round”, doing damage control by only allowing the other team to get that question and the previous ones as “bouncebacks”. The fourth and final round is like the first round, except each question can give up to thirty points depending on how quickly the player answers, encouraging early buzzes and risky plays. The majority of our Oratory quiz bowl team are simply enjoyers of history who try to gradually and steadily absorb more history knowledge (as opposed to the more “dense” learning required for, say, Mock Trial). The club is generally very low-pressure and enjoyable. If any of that paragraph sounds intriguing, Quiz Bowl accepts walk-ons, there is a low time commitment (the grueling competition at nationals is very unusual for us), and you only need to compete if you want to. We would love to have you!

The Showdowns

On December 5th, our team collectively sat in our own homes, waiting for the first match link on the Google Sheets to open. As would happen for most or all of the matches on both days, it was a later start than scheduled. For each match, the procedure was to follow the Google Meet link within the Sheets page and also sign into Coba, a website that allowed players to virtually “buzz in” similarly to how we would in person. In general, the weekend had plenty of delays, along with some microphone and sign-in issues for both moderators and players. Nicholas Scantlebury in particular had a lot of tech problems (although he of course compensated for it by being one of the most valuable team members), as did one of our moderators in a few matches. Most matches started at least a few minutes late. Our team used the comments on Google Classroom to talk between and during matches, whether it was sharing the scores of each round for Mr. McCrystal’s sake or joking good-naturedly about our opponents or ourselves. 

Our first match of the day, against the New York school Horace Greeley, was sadly a loss. However, the battle was a well-fought one. While the first round ended with a thirty-point lead for them (60-30), by the end of the second round they were only ten points away (120-110). Horace Greeley earned a hundred points in their speed round, which is impressive. Since we also performed well, the score became 220-170; while you don’t want to be 50 points down, the fourth round is exactly where upsets happen. In the end, however, the final score was 250-220 in their favor due to the admirable efforts of both schools.

The next match, against the Arizona school Hamilton B, was a change of pace. By the end of the second round of the second match, Oratory was up over Hamilton B by a whopping 110 points (150-40), a lead that would prove insurmountable. The third round led to a 220-70 score, and the second match ended with 250-80 win for us. Frankly, the match was a bit of a rout, although in true Oratory fashion we would never consider gloating about it.

The tables would turn in the next match. Our opponent was to be the University of Toronto, which is a high school team (despite the name) in Canada (I can only presume that it is a high school combined with a college like St. Elizabeth’s in our area). Morale was high going in, with jokes about annexing Canada and a remark of “Let’s get international and beat some Canadians!” from the marvelous Mr. McCrystal. As it turns out, Canada must have something in their maple syrup that enhances their brainpower, because their team was seriously skilled. While all of the University of Toronto’s team seemed pretty talented, a student named Cam both carried them pointwise and was the personality of the team. Between his counting down with his fingers, exaggerated expressions of joy and despair, and generally idiosyncrasies, Cam made being beaten more interesting. And beaten we were… The score went from 80-20 them in the first round to 150-80 them in the second round. During the speed round, University of Toronto swept their topic, a fairly-rare achievement that gives a bonus of 20 points on top of the 80 for the eight questions; that also meant no bounce-backs for us to inch towards them with, while we gained no points ourselves. The final score was 320-110, a substantial loss to Canada. Notably, that was the only match that Mr. McCrystal spectated on, so it could just be that he is bad luck.

Match 4 was against the school named Fayetteville-Manlius, a school in New York. We came back ready to go after spending our between-match time resting (or goofing offーme and another student joined an empty Google Meet with tons of copies of ourselves while we waited). As it turned out, the match went smoothly. The first round ended with us thirty points ahead (60-30), and we built that lead up to 70 points during the second round (140-70). In the end, we would make gains in both of the next rounds while Fayetteville-Manlius would only gain points in the third round, leading to a final score of 290-130 for Oratory. 

The end of the day was nearing at this point, and I like to think that we were all a bit exhausted (I certainly was). Given that even the first match had begun after 4:30, the team was well into the evening. In the final match of the first day, Oratory Prep faced the Boston Latin School, which (fun fact) is the oldest existing school in the United States. I suppose that schools only get better with age, as in the end, the Boston Latin School took the game. Still, we keep it within fighting distance for most of the game, with the scores in Rounds 1, 2, and 3 being 60-30 them, 140-90 them, and 180-130 them respectively. They only really broke out of our possible winning range in the fourth round, leading to the final score of 280-140 for the Boston Latin School.

After a good night’s rest, we arose on Sunday ready to take on five more matches. Jaden Medina would sadly not be joining us that day, meaning that all of the matches would have no substitutions (four players can be “in” at once). Our first opponent would be Jesuit, a school from Portland, Oregon. Jesuit had a 2-3 win-loss record on Saturday (the same as us), so the match was predictably close and exciting. We traded a ten-point league with a 50-40 us score in the first round and a 100-90 them score in the second round. By the end of the speed round, both teams were tied at 140 points. In the end, Oratory pulled away in the fourth and final round, letting to a final score of 200-150. The Jesuit match was a well-fought, exciting victory, and an excellent way to open the day of matches.

Our second match was against the Archimedean Upper Conservatory from Miami, Florida. Although the school’s Saturday record was 2-3, like the rest of our opponents on Sunday, they had the highest point total. Before the match, I predicted that they would be our most challenging opponent of the day. As it turns out, the battle was extremely close. Oratory and Archimedean tied twice in the first two rounds (50-50 and 90-90). However, the third round (170-120) gave Oratory a solid lead, albeit one that was still within Archimedean’s striking distance. In the end, Archimedean made a heroic effort to catch up, but the game finished at 210-180 with Oratory ahead. There had been multiple score disputes during the game due to confusion among the moderators and players, which made the game feel even tighter than it was.

While I had predicted from the Saturday point totals that Archimedean Upper Conservatory would be Oratory’s most talented challenger, I was wrong. In the eighth match of the weekend, we went up about Bethel from Connecticut. Despite the Saturday stats having Bethel just a bit below Archimedean in total points, our match against them wasn’t really close. After the first quarter, Bethel was already up 70-30, which is not where you want to be in the first round. After the second round, Bethel strengthened their lead to a whopping 150-60. After the third round, Oratory had a 100-point gap between us and Bethel (230-130), and the final match score ended up being 280-170. It really wasn’t a pretty match for Oratory. While our 110-point loss was much less than our 210-point loss to the University of Toronto, this match felt worse to me personally for some indeterminate reason. 

In the second-to-last match of the grueling weekend, Oratory faced off against Dalton, a school from Big Apple itself, New York City. We started off strong with a 70-20 point lead, but at the end of the second round Dalton was close behind with 110-90 us. However, the third round quashed their chances, with Oratory lengthening their lead to 90 points in a 200-110 score. After an uncharacteristically low-scoring fourth round, Oratory would prevail with a 220-140 score.

From there, Oratory would go on to compete in their last match of the unusually-long weekend. Alas, I was not there to see it. I was heavily mentally fatigued at this point (as I’m sure everyone was) and I had plenty to do. So, when we heard that Alex Han was in the wings ready to provide reinforcements to the team, I could sign off guiltlessly thanks to my supportive teammates. The final match would be fought against Princeton in NJ (I can only assume that this was the high school team). Princeton led 40-30 in the first round, but Oratory soon leapfrogged them with a 150-100 us score. At the end of the match, Oratory would take the W with a 200-110 win.

To tell the truth, I didn’t really know what I was committing to when I said I would compete in Nationals that weekend. I sure did not know it was going to be a ten-match marathon. Some others on our team were probably the same. Despite all of that, I really enjoyed it. While the weekend was unusually long and difficult compared to normal Quiz Bowl competitions, Nationals was also enjoyable and rewarding. Competing against teams from across the country (and internationally, in the case of Canada) is something that we would never normally experience in Quiz Bowl. The entire experience goes to show that it’s possible to make the best out of a situation, whether it is being unable to compete in-person for quiz bowl or anything else in the lives of you and me.