Scholar Bowl season Zooms to an end


Brinda Ambal

Scholar Bowl participants meet with club sponsor Patrick Troy for a meeting on Zoom.

Four teammates work together diligently. Hands ready on their buzzers. Eyes concentrated on their moderator. This is the scene of a Scholar Bowl tournament where students delve into the world of academic competition.

Scholar Bowl is an activity where two opposing teams of four players each compete to answer questions individually and with their teammates. A typical Scholar Bowl tournament would take place on a Saturday at the high school that was hosting it. There would be a moderator to read questions from a canon—question bank—and competitors that ‘buzz in’ to answer them. However, due to COVID-19, all aspects of the tournament were translated into a virtual format.

“When I joined [Scholar Bowl] I knew barely anything other than the stuff that I learned in my classes. So there’s the gratification of learning,” junior and Scholar Bowl member Kevin Zheng said. “A lot of the questions were way harder for me than they are now. It just feels very nice that you can buzz in as the moderator says the first three words of the question, and you know the answer right away. It feels so good.”

Students in the club practice on Protobowl, a website which automatically generates questions in all categories: mathematics, science, social studies, communication arts, fine arts or performing arts and a miscellaneous category.

“We have what we call Protobowl Sundays, extra practices on Sundays which are optional,” junior and Scholar Bowl co-Captain Anna Csiki-Fejer said. “I feel like [one] thing to stress is, whatever method of studying or learning that works for you is what we encourage. So some people might want to read articles to learn, some people watch videos, some people listen to podcasts. We do our best to gather that wide range of media, and then if anyone wants to get better on something but doesn’t know how to, we try to help them figure out what method works best for them.”

There are two types of questions, toss-ups and bonuses. Toss-ups are questions where competitors race to see who gets the answer correct first. Bonuses, on the other hand, are three additional questions that are presented if the competitor gets the toss-up correct.

One of the reasons why I think [Scholar Bowl] is really important right now is that it gives me something to do. It’s kept my brain active during this year, and kept me from doing nothing of value.”

— Owen Arneson

“One of the things we place emphasis on is even if a toss-up goes bad, or you don’t know the answer, it’s always going to be better to give an educated guess than no guess at all. And even if you’re wrong you’ll know the answer once they tell you. So there’s always room for growth and improvement in that sense,” Csiki-Fejer said.

Given the large amount of potential questions, preparation for a tournament can take a substantial amount of daily practice. Students in the club, however, enjoy the opportunity to expand their knowledge.

“One of the reasons why I think [Scholar Bowl] is really important right now is that it gives me something to do. Besides school and sleeping, it’s what I do most of the time. It’s kept my brain active during this year, and kept me from doing nothing of value,” sophomore and Scholar Bowl co-Captain Owen Arneson said.

As with most clubs and activities, Scholar Bowl transferred to an entirely virtual format this year. For Arneson, who has been participating in tournaments since the start of middle school, competing online brought unfamiliar challenges.

“Sometimes, the team part is harder to do [virtually] because you can’t confer privately with your team,” Arneson said. “It is really unfortunate when you cut out during questions—you can’t answer. That’s really like the hardest thing that happens. There’s some cutting out and some timing issues, but it’s been adapted pretty well.”

Despite the competitive nature of the club, the team is very close-knit and look forward to practicing with each other.

“During practices lately, our host Mr. Troy has been changing our Zoom names into nicknames that either rhyme with our name or just [to] puns based on who we are, fun stuff like that,” Csiki-Fejer said. “And honestly just having practice after a day of sitting on Zoom is a really good way to relax, so having that is pretty nice.”

The club works to create a light-hearted atmosphere at their practices. For instance, three days prior to the Washington University High School Academic Competition (WUHSAC), team members read packets to each other over voice chat—with a twist. They decided to implement penalties. Due to these penalties, in the span of two hours, Zheng made Arneson do 120 push-ups and 150 squats.

“We did this challenge where we would go head-to-head against a different person, and if the other person got the question we would have to do a certain exercise. And I got beat pretty badly, so I was very sore for the next few days,” Arneson said.

While the team practices frequently, they prioritize learning and having fun over intense and rigid studying.

“If there’s a tournament, I would generally spend as much free time as I have basically, so anywhere from three hours to six hours, on Protobowl,” Zheng said. “Protobowl’s fun because there’s voice chat, and you just hang out with a bunch of friends. And then other times we spend one or two hours reading questions [and] packets to each other. We [can] spend 30 minutes just Google-ing something if we don’t understand.”

Csiki-Fejer, who is co-Captain of the club with Arneson, reflects on practices this season and the objective of the club.

“We’re here to have fun, and it’s not meant to be a super intense, competitive atmosphere. For practices, we’re really just focused on playing to our best and improving. That’s what we emphasize instead of who gets more points or who missed what question,” Csiki-Fejer said.

Getting creative with practices, competing strongly at tournaments and overall learning a lot has led the team to feel that this year was a success, and they look forward to closing it out at Nationals June 5-6.

“[The] thing about Scholar Bowl is, you don’t really need to know much to join. Sophomore year [was] my first time in the Scholar Bowl, and I got one question right out of 20,” Zheng said. “You gain experience over time and you start learning more about it. While there might be people who are more talented, you can always learn and you’ll eventually be as good as them. It’s all a learning process.”