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Meet Quizbowl, Kenyon’s lesser-known team of champions

The Division I Quizbowl team won a championship and qualifies for a national tournament.

Members of the Kenyon Quizbowl team like to accumulate knowledge, and they’re very good at it.

At a tournament last Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio, Kenyon’s Division I Quizbowl team — made up of four students representing three different class years — took first place among the undergraduate competitors. Their victory qualifies them for the National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ national tournament in Chicago later this year.

Team leader Graham Reid ’17 knew there would be some tough competition but was confident going into the event. “We felt like we had a good shot at it,” he said.

Quizbowl is a form of competitive trivia, played at both the high school and collegiate levels. Somewhat similar to Jeopardy!, the game pits two teams against each other as players compete to answer questions on a wide range of topics. The scoring system involves two types of questions: toss-up (available for both teams to answer) and bonus (available to a team that successfully answered a toss-up). More points are awarded for a quicker answer.

While Kenyon’s football team may not stand a chance against The Ohio State University’s team, the College’s Quizbowl team reigns supreme. Some of the schools present at this past tournament were much larger universities, such as OSU, University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University.   Kenyon was the only school with an undergraduate population of fewer than 5,000 students. But unlike football, Quizbowl doesn’t require a large student population.

“Having a good Quizbowl team is something that really only requires four people,” Reid said.

One of those four people is Lauren Onel ’20. Onel began playing Quizbowl in high school, when she placed eighth in a national tournament, and has continued playing at Kenyon. “It gave me a reason to explore these things that I was already really interested in,” she said of the game. Onel’s high school did not offer classes in religion or philosophy, but she was able to pursue her interest in these subjects through Quizbowl.

The preparation of Kenyon’s Quizbowl players varies. Onel and Reid study for Quizbowl by reviewing past questions from tournaments, and they sometimes read entire books on topics that frequently appear. Onel also keeps a log of all the questions that she has gotten right and wrong. In the past, she missed a question about Greece — she thought it was asking about the island of Crete specifically — but also answered a question about Excalibur before the moderator even finished the sentence.

Not everyone is as dedicated as Onel and Reid. Beyond the successful Division I team, Kenyon also sports a Division II team of players who like to participate more casually. For them, Quizbowl represents a fun way to test their knowledge without much outside effort.

The team hosts practices on Monday and Friday nights. The practices are laidback: Attendance is not mandatory, and a handful of members come infrequently.

During a recent Monday practice, participants joked around, chatted about their days and occasionally buzzed in to answer a question about a lesser-known Greek philosopher. The small group sat in a circle and used a system of red buttons all connected by one wire to record the buzzes.

“It’s very relaxed — people are coming in and out, no one is too worried about it,” Oliver VandenBerg ’20, a club member who attends some practices, said.

The practice questions are pulled from previous competitions and read like paragraphs. With each new sentence, more information is revealed, but the question can be answered at any time.

“It’s an endless competition,” Onel said. “There’s always more you could know and more you could find out.”

Onel admits that many of the topics she is familiar with because of Quizbowl are obscure. “Being able to recite the summary of six works by Eudora Welty is never going to be applicable elsewhere,” she said.

Reid, on the other hand, finds more use for his knowledge. “The things that I have in my mind from Quizbowl are always relevant to something else,” he said. An avid reader and documentary watcher, Reid believes it is his love of learning that drove him to join Quizbowl.

Whatever their reasons for collecting an enormous mass of knowledge, Kenyon students have found a great place to use all that information in Quizbowl. They answer questions ranging from literature to physics to politics, and they do it better than most other schools in the Midwest.

After their victory last Saturday over the University of Pittsburgh, Kenyon’s Quizbowl team enjoyed a dinner at Panera Bread together. Then they headed back to campus — and back to their books.