By Dylan Davidson
In the wake of this year’s NAQT High School National Championship Tournament in Atlanta, eyes across the country were turned toward Texas. In addition to the winning LASA team, Texas boasted three teams in the top seven and ten teams in the playoffs. For Quiz Bowl teams across the United States, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Lone Star State is a force to be reckoned with.
Just four years ago, in 2009, things were quite different. Just six teams from Texas attended the HSNCT in Chicago. LASA, a program in its third year of existence, took 11th place to lead the state. But Quiz Bowl has taken root across Texas since then, in large part due to TQBA’s focus on the creation of new programs. In 2013, twenty-two teams at HSNCT were from Texas, nearly a tenth of the teams at the tournament.
This growth in size is matched only by the extraordinary enthusiasm and strength of Texas teams in recent years. In a recent ranking from hsqbrank.com, Texas holds three of the top four spots in the nation; an unprecedented two teams from LASA holding first and fourth with St. John’s School in third.
The past year has been a good one for Texas Quiz bowl, which has been enjoying continued success following its fantastic showing at HSNCT. But many are wondering: What exactly is it that’s making Texas so successful?
It’s difficult to say exactly, but the enormous expansion of middle school play undeniably goes a long way toward creating a competitive high school environment. Part of it is also TQBA’s recent emphasis on creating new programs in addition to cultivating perennial successes.
Take, for example, San Antonio. Until 2011, the Alamo city wasn’t even a blip on the Quiz Bowl radar. But since a TQBA Novice Tournament that fall at Trinity University, a huge number of competitive new programs have appeared. Led by schools like Reagan and my own alma mater, Clark, San Antonio Quiz Bowl has become more and more notable, sending four of Texas’s twenty-two teams to HSNCT in May.
At TQBA’s state championship tournament this year, my Clark teammates and I placed eighth, a record for a first-time competitor. I started my Quiz Bowl career at that Trinity Novice Tournament in San Antonio in 2011. The rest of the story is familiar to every Quiz Bowl player; hundreds of hours spent poring over lit study guides and lists of seemingly indistinguishable German philosophers, long car and plane rides with teammates during which we spouted innumerable facts about European history and matrices and chemical compounds. We gave ourselves immeasurable grief because we said “Lolita” instead of “Nabokov.” We had the inevitable conversations with friends and teachers and college interviewers about just what Quiz Bowl is: “Well, it’s sort of like Jeopardy.” My teammates and I were best friends on an adventure, and we loved every moment of it.
Part of the reason that Quiz Bowl takes root so easily, I think, is its natural appeal to a certain type of student. People like my teammates and I, kids who were memorizing facts since language acquisition, who for years and years began sentences with “did you know,” or, more likely, “actually.” The moment we discovered that we could put buzzers in our hands and make a competition of it, it was a no-brainer. We were hooked.
And as we grew and developed, as we learned what it takes to be a good team, we learned that it was about more than just learning facts. We learned that sharing the burden with teammates is better than trying to know all of the answers alone. We learned that the “it’s okay” that follows a wrong answer is just as important as the answer itself. Quiz Bowl taught us not just about poets and physicists and composers; it taught us about life.
All nostalgic ramblings aside, in my mind, this is the reason for the huge success of Texas Quiz Bowl in recent years. It’s simpler than demanding coaches and well-funded programs (although these certainly help). Quiz Bowl players are everywhere; many of them just don’t know it yet. The TQBA recognizes this, and their effort to bring Quiz Bowl to students across the state, to give everyone an opportunity to succeed, is the real root of the explosive growth.
Texas has picked up Quiz Bowl and run with it, achieving unprecedented success. It’s my hope that TQBA continues to these cultivate these new teams, to discover the latent talent in students across the state. The past four years have shown that the ensuing competition yields some amazing results. But if you ask me, I think it’s just the beginning.
Dylan Davidson is currently an English major at the University of Texas at Austin. He graduated in 2013 from Tom C. Clark High School, where he was a founding member of its Quiz Bowl team.