Quick – Quick – Quick! What mythological creature has the whole world on his shoulders?
Too late. The answer is “Atlas.”
Welcome to the world of the Quince Orchard High School Academic Club.
The club, a group of around 20 students, fields two “quiz bowl” teams (A Team and B Team) that compete regularly throughout the school year in tournaments. The students in the Academic Club spend the whole school year studying and practicing for competition, and the Quince Orchard High School Quiz Bowl team is nationally ranked. Team members compete at least once a month in a variety of Quiz Bowl tournaments hosted by other high schools and universities.
Many people will see the team on television Saturday, April 26 at 10 a.m., competing in the playoff round on NBC4’s “It’s Academic.” The actual playoff round will be taped Saturday, March 8. Quince Orchard faces two tough opponents, Georgetown Day and Richard Montgomery.
In “It’s Academic,” three teams compete in each game, QO Academic Club faculty advisor Josh Schuman explained. “In the first round, 81 teams from the metro area played in 27 games. In the playoff rounds, the 27 teams will play nine games.”
In the semi-final round, nine teams will meet in three games and the three winners will go to the finals. The semi-final round is in April and the final round — the championship — is in May.
“We won the first round against Sherwood and National Cathedral in October,” Schuman said. “Our playoff opponents, Richard Montgomery and Georgetown Day, are both good teams.”
The QO Academic Club is open to anyone interested in participation and generally has between 15 and 20 members. Each of the two tournament teams has four players and an alternate.
QO junior Sean Manners joined the Academic Club as a freshman, when older brother, Christopher Manners, was a senior club member. Christopher Manners now competes on the University of Maryland Academic Quiz Team.
Sean Manners said each person on a four-member team (a fifth member is an alternate) focuses mainly on a single discipline—literature, history or science. Manners is the team’s generalist.
Preparation for quiz competition requires discipline and determination. There are lunch practices during the week and sometimes practices on weekends. “People also practice at home together, and they do things on their own,” said Manners.
How does a person prepare for a competition in which he or she could be asked almost anything?
“We study,” explained Manners, “but not in your typical way. There is a Quiz Bowl database website we can go to.” (Check out www.quizbowlpackets.com.)
Quiz Bowl tournaments, which are held at sponsoring high schools and universities, use a format substantially different from the familiar “It’s Academic” TV show. Questions are more complex, harder and structured in “pyramidal” format.
A pyramidal question takes the form of a long paragraph. There is one correct answer, but as clues are given, there are many chances to say the answer. Early in the paragraph, the clues are very vague but as the paragraph continues, the contestant is drawn closer to the answer. If the question is looking for the answer, ‘Ulysses S. Grant,’ the question might begin: ‘This American military officer, whose given name was Hiram, was born in a town called Point Pleasant. The paragraph would continue to meander through the signposts of Grant’s life, closing toward the end of the paragraph with information about his Civil War role and his subsequent presidency.
A team can buzz in to respond, “Ulysses S. Grant” at any point during the question — and the earlier they do, the better their chance of winning.
In fact, to play and win, team members must be willing to press the buzzer before the answer comes to mind. “They buzz in,” explained Coach Schuman, “counting on themselves, that in the next five seconds, they will remember the answer.”
What makes a successful Academic Club team member?
There are the basics. “There are lists you can work with,” said Schuman. “For example, there is a list of 100 works of art you should know. You should also know all the presidents, all the state capitals—and I encourage the team to learn all the world capitals.
“You find that some things come up again and again.”
To prepare for the pyramidal question format, said Schuman, in practices, team members write down the clue that came right before the clue that gave them the answer. Hopefully, the next time a player hears a similar question, he/she will be able to buzz in a few seconds earlier.
This is Coach Schuman’s seventh year as the team’s faculty sponsor. Until the 2007-2008 school year, when he started to coach, Schuman had never been involved in the sport. “My first year at the school, I said I wanted to be involved in a student organization and they asked me to do this. I grew up watching the TV show.
“We started getting good and then discovered that there is a whole world outside TV” in tournament competition. Because of the team’s outstanding tournament record, it has qualified to compete in two national tournaments in May and June.
Sean Manners said there is more to the Quince Orchard Academic Club than tournaments and TV. “There are nice people and a friendly, inviting atmosphere.” Manners said the Quince Orchard Academic Club members have established friendships with competitors from other schools. “We go out and do things.”
Junior Henry Peck has been on the team since the first week of his freshman year. Like Sean Manners, he was struck early on by the friendliness of the club and by its sense of unity and common purpose. “I felt like I belonged and like I could contribute to the club,” he said. “I wanted to spend time with other people who were interested in learning outside the classroom. As a freshman, it was an opportunity to be involved with people from other classes — with upperclassmen — doing something positive.”
A member of the Academic Club’s A Team, Peck specializes in science. “You get the feeling here that everyone is working together on something, working toward the same goal,” he said.
Television viewers can follow 26 Montgomery County Public School Quiz Bowl teams in “Quizmaster Challenge” on MCPS Instructional TV on Wednesdays and Fridays, 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 p.m.