After Winning Conference Title, Elm Quiz Kids Compete on National Stage

After Winning Conference Title, Elm Quiz Kids Compete on National Stage

PHOTO: Members of Elm's Scholastic Bowl team compete at the 2018 Middle School National Championship Tournament in Rosemont, Ill., on Saturday, May 12.

What a year of accomplishments for Elm Middle School's Scholastic Bowl team!

In March, the school's varsity squad won the Leyden-Norwood Athletic Conference (LNAC) championship — Elm's first Scholastic Bowl conference title since the Cougars began competing in 2015-16.

Shortly after that, coach Ms. Susan Hawes found out her varsity team had qualified for the 2018 Middle School National Championship Tournament, which took place from Friday, May 11, to Sunday, May 13, at the Hyatt Regency O-Hare in Rosemont.

In all, 192 schools participated in the national tourney, including 14 from Illinois.

Elm competed in four scrimmage rounds Friday night and eight official matches Saturday. Although the Cougars didn't advance to the playoff rounds on Sunday, they showed consistent improvement throughout the tournament and did Elm proud, according to Ms. Hawes.

"In my mind our students were all winners," she said. "They were all models of sportsmanship. There were lots of laughs and adventures. And, they had some interesting conversations with students from all over the country."

Two of Elm's conference rivals also qualified for nationals: Hester and Mannheim. Although Elm didn't compete directly against either team, the Cougars outscored both of their fellow LNAC schools by the end of the tournament, finishing with 690 overall points versus Hester's 570 and Mannheim's 565.

Elm's Scholastic Bowl varsity team at the Middle School National Tournament.

PHOTO: The Elm Scholastic Bowl varsity team relaxes after a match at the Middle School National Championship Tournament. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).

So What Is Scholastic Bowl?

Scholastic Bowl is the Illinois version of what's known nationally as Quiz Bowl — a  competitive academic activity that involves answering questions about a vast range of subjects, including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, popular culture and sports.

Each game pits two teams against each other, with students using a buzzer to interrupt the reading of "toss-up" questions when they think they know the answer. The buzzer system adds speed to the game and rewards students who can process information quickly and accurately.

Because no individual student is likely to be an expert in all subject areas, the competition also rewards teamwork. If a team answers a toss-up question correctly, the team gets first crack at answering several bonus questions. Students can collaborate on those answers through brief discussions among themselves. 

These academically enriching qualities interested Elm Principal Dr. Kathleen Porreca. Having already started a successful after-school robotics program, she pushed for the creation of a Scholastic Bowl team as an additional way to enhance the academic opportunities available to students.

"Our conference had started a Scholastic Bowl league several years prior, but I didn't have the budget for us to start a team," Dr. Porreca said. "Three years ago, I asked Dr. Anderson [then-Superintendent Dr. Kevin Anderson] to approve the amount I needed to fund the program. He agreed with me that it would be a great opportunity for our students, and he approved the funding. Ms. Hawes applied to be our coach, and the rest is history."

Elm Scholastic Bowl team members pose for a group shot.

PHOTO: Members of Elm Middle School's 2018 Scholastic Bowl varsity team gather for a group photo shortly after winning the conference championship in March. Missing is team member Amelia Ennis. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge). 

Meet the Scholastic Bowl Team — Varsity & JV

So who are the students who represented Elm this year? Competing at the varsity level, the following students led Elm to the 2018 LNAC 8th-grade championship and qualified for nationals:

► Uriel Delgado
► Amelia Ennis
► George Gauthier
► Bart Krzeminski
► Arabella Munoz
► Kamil Musial
► Anthony Ontiveros
► Brian Prosser
► Magnus Shipinski
► Diana Wittrock
► Donell Yu

Competing at the junior-varsity level were the following 7th graders: 

► Alejandro Herrera
► Jacob Laufer
► Luke Meske
► Batuhan Mulvihill
► Alanis Rivera
► Arriona Smith
► Renaldo Venegas

Congratulations to everyone on a great season, and good luck to our 7th graders as they move up to varsity next year!

Elm Scholastic Bowl students compete in the Middle School National Championship Tournament.

PHOTO: Elm students compete against a Tennessee team during the 2018 Middle School National Championship Tournament. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge). 

Q&A with Scholastic Bowl Coach Ms. Susan Hawes

To learn more about Scholastic Bowl and the Elm program, D401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca interviewed Coach Hawes via email. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Q: How many years has Elm had a Scholastic Bowl team?

A: I am told there was an experimental and part-time team five years ago or so, but Elm’s official conference membership in Scholastic Bowl was established in 2016 (the 2015-16 school year).

Q: Have you been the coach the entire time?

A: I have coached SB since 2016.

Q: What motivated you to be the coach?

A: An announcement was made at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year that Elm was starting an official team and that a coaching position was open. I did not act on it initially, but after I tired of people dropping hints, I put in my application.

Q: You had a very successful conference season this year. What can you tell us about it?

A: Our regular season included nine matches, one per each other school in the conference. Elm’s varsity record was 8-1, putting us in first place.  

Our last event was the Leyden-Fenton Invitational tournament. Technically separate from the regular conference games, it gave a big finish to the season. Each team plays a round robin set of five games in two grade-level divisions. The top scorer from each division plays a final match, and those two teams receive trophies and medals.

At that event, we made it to the final match facing Hester (whom we beat in the season to clinch our first-place spot). But after a very close, nail-biting, cardiac-stressing round, Hester got their revenge and the tournament first-place trophy. But we took home a beautiful conference championship plaque and a second-place tournament trophy.

The plaque reads: "
Leyden-Norwood Conference/Scholastic Bowl/Varsity Division/Champions — 2018."

The trophy reads: "Leyden-Fenton Invitational/2nd Place/Varsity/2018."

Board of Education honors Scholastic Bowl team.

PHOTO: The District 401 Board of Education honors the Elm Scholastic Bowl varsity team at its March regular board meeting. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).

Q: For those who aren't familiar with Scholastic Bowl, how would you describe it? What happens at a meet? What subject areas are covered? How are contests scored?

A: Here’s a rough description: At each meet, two teams of five students each sit in front of a buzzer system. The host (usually the home-team coach) reads questions aloud.

The questions are purchased from National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT), the sponsor of the national competition, and they are sent to the home school with just enough time to print copies and give the reader a short time to look them over. 

Students buzz in if they know the answer. If correct, their team gets first shot at a series of three bonus questions. However, if they miss a bonus question, the other team may answer for a "rebound" point. Unlike the toss-up questions (buzzer round), during the bonus questions, team members discuss quietly for 15 seconds before answering. After 20 toss-up/bonus rounds, the team with the most points wins. Simple.

While each team at the buzzers has only five players, substitutions and breaks are built in to allow other players to participate.

Q: How do you select your team members?

A: Foolishly, in my first year coaching, I welcomed everyone who showed up to the information meeting. Now, I hold tryouts over at least two days during Advisory, open to anyone. For efficiency's sake, instead of setting up the buzzer system, I give them a pencil and paper version of a typical game: roughly 20 questions pulled from previous years' packets. I give 8th graders who played the previous year some base points for experience, then I simply take the top scores. An ideal team is eight students per grade level, give or take.

Q: How does your team prepare?

A: That's a tough one. How do you prepare a middle school student to answer questions they won't see in advance about topics that span all of human knowledge?! My first year, I didn't see how it was possible to prepare. Then we started noticing a rhythm to the questions; certain subjects seemed to come up more often than others, and half the battle is timing the buzzers and being strategic about teamwork questions.

I give the students a little flexibility in the practice schedule, but it usually works out to about two hours a week of practicing during and after school, unless there's a game. On top of that they get a little "homework." We identify early on who has expertise in certain areas, and we assign lists. For example, the geography expert brushes up on Asia and Africa, the literature expert focuses on American poets, someone else takes mythology, sports, etc.

And then we cross our fingers and hope for some luck.

Q: When you're recruiting students, what are your selling points? In other words, in your view what do students gain from participating?

A: When recruiting, I usually appeal to kids who are competitive, self-confessed nerds or brainiacs, and who like trivia or game shows. It takes a certain cut-throat confidence to play the games, so I try to market to kids who like to show off their knowledge.

What they gain is another story. Scholastic Bowl brings the benefits of a sports team to students who aren't usually the top athletes. Team members bond in ways they wouldn't during a regular school day. They learn time management and how to balance priorities in a busy schedule. I mentioned confidence earlier as being an important quality, but while those who could use more gain it on the SB team, those who bring confidence with them also learn a little humility and sportsmanship.

Q: Have any team members won special individual awards this year? 

A: At the Leyden-Fenton Invitational, they award the individual student with the most correct "Toss-Up" answers on each team. Our individual winners were George Gauthier for 8th grade and Luke Meske for 7th grade.

Q: Is there anything you'd like to add about Scholastic Bowl that we haven't covered?

A: We've had a few laughs about calling me a "coach" when it comes to things like coaches' meetings to discuss concussion preparedness and collecting sports physicals. We've imagined the SB competition heating up into a brawl about the correct pronunciation of some river in Asia leading to concussions. Since this is unlikely, I’d say Scholastic Bowl is my kind of team sport.

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