A teacher with students sitting around a table in a classroom at River Oaks Baptist School

2018-19 Quiz Bowl Team Wins Big at Nationals

Year-round practices, lunchtime conditioning sessions, weekend tournaments—the commitment is intense. Competitions often last eight hours or more, so players have to build stamina and endurance. Focus and speed are critical.

The following article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of ‘Vine & Branch’ magazine.

Teams must be fluid, members instinctively anticipating each other’s moves and responding with agility. A disciplined offense has pushed ROBS’ newest team into an arena of elite competitors. But these students aren’t your typical athletes. They are quiz bowl players.

Quiz bowl is a game in which teams compete head-to-head to answer trivia. Questions cover myriad subjects, including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, popular culture, sports, and more. Think of it as team Jeopardy!, but the questions are harder and you don’t win money. So why do it? The creators of quiz bowl say they’re shepherding 21st century Renaissance thinkers who can discuss Aztec mythology and enlightenment philosophy as effortlessly as they might food, football, or fashion. But the kids say they do it because their teammates are “radical” and they “like hanging out with fellow geeks.” In other words, it’s fun.

A handful of ROBS Middle School parents spearheaded the creation of a ROBS quiz bowl team three years ago when they learned about it from friends at other Houston schools. Originally the parents conducted practices, but by its second year, sixth grade science teacher Suzanne Bryant—a former academic decathlete herself—had assumed leadership as the ROBS Quiz Bowl faculty sponsor and team coach. In addition, the team began training with an unexpected
volunteer—executive director of the Texas Quiz Bowl Alliance and venerated quiz bowl champion, Dr. Chris Romero. Recognizing their raw talent and charmed by the team’s earnest determination, Dr. Romero asked if he could work with the ROBS kids. He attended weekly practices the entire year. The Middle School team shouldered its way through local tournaments, ultimately placing second in the state championship. At the same tournament, the ROBS fifth and sixth grade team placed first in the state!

This year the Raiders qualified for nationals in their first tournament. But that doesn’t mean they phoned it in for the rest of the season—there are no lifelines in Quiz Bowl. Each tournament is anybody’s for the taking, with unexpected victories and upsets. At one pivotal tournament in the fall, the Middle School team had fallen behind its opponent almost irreparably (40-180). Suzanne Bryant, who ping pongs between the Elementary (grades 5-6) and Middle School (grades 7-8) team matches, discovered her crew looking lethargic at the buzzer. The ROBS team was understandably lackluster after a week of sports commitments, rehearsals for the fall musical, and the seventh grade class trip to T Bar M. A victory seemed out of reach. It
would require not only winning every single question thereafter, but racking up extra points by buzzing early and earning bonus questions. A pep talk from Mrs. Bryant ignited their perseverance… motivating ROBS to a 185-180 win.

Despite their achievements, ROBS’ reputation on the quiz bowl circuit may have more to do with team spirit. The ROBS players enter each tournament under different aliases. At Christmastime for example, the leaderboard listed AOS Team A, AOS Team B, SJS Red, SJS Black, and the ROBS Easter Bunnies. At another tournament, ROBS entered as cheese varieties—Team
Gouda, Team Brie, and Team Cheddar.

The players relish the camaraderie that comes from their unconventionality. Each warmup ritual includes a joke told by eighth grader Sophia Jazaeri. “It’s not that we don’t care,” she says, “but if we mess up, we just laugh about it and move on.” Their opponents may unravel after minor setbacks or exhibit frustration toward teammates who whiff questions, but the Easter Bunnies are often overheard encouraging each other after misses and congratulating each other on successes. Their positive determination just might be their secret weapon.

Eighth grader Samantha Fowler says quiz bowl teaches them sportsmanship and perseverance because “we lose a lot.” Their humility and humor belie their actual record. The sixth grade team defended their title as state champions this year following an undefeated season. Sixth grader Luke Yard and seventh grader Camron Baldwin were invited to compete in the prestigious Individual Player National Championship Tournament. And Camron Baldwin, Samantha Fowler, Sophia Jazaeri, and Catherine Moursund represented ROBS this May at the national championship tournament in Chicago, competing against some of the smartest kids in the country. In the end, ROBS placed 86th out of 176 teams from across the country.

As usual the players represented the School with the good-humored spirit they’ve become known for, demonstrating resilience and optimism in defeat. “Winning is fun, but what these kids have is worth so much more than a trophy,” says Suzanne. “They’ve got character and faith.”

Congratulations to the Easter Bunnies. You ARE the example.

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