Of Rough Riders and Magwitch; Knowledge Bowl challenges students across all academics

Published 8:51 am Thursday, March 1, 2018

Most of the Austin High School students who are members of the Knowledge Bowl team found it hard to define why they liked being on the team.

With first a look of “What?” most struggled to find a definitive answer. But in the end, the common takeaway from these students is they enjoy being part of an academic pursuit, and getting “to be with your friends,” said Simon Hirst, 17.

“And it just seemed like fun,” he added.”When you get a question right, you feel good about yourself.”

Henry Hinchcliffe, left, and Terik Merzkani, right, consider a question during a practice round of the AHS Knowledge Bowl team. The group of 16-20 members will compete in sub-regions on March 6.

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This was one of the last practices of the regular season, before the 16-20 students begin to participate in the sub-regions on March 6 in Rochester. The club has had good performances in regular season tournaments, said Arik Andersen, their coach for the past eight years.

With about a dozen students sitting at desks around Andersen, the practice oral questions begin — there is also a written portion — and the practice picks up speed. Andersen operates a small, green device that tracks who buzzes in first; a laptop in front of him holds the questions.

Each team of students — which could range from one person to five — has a length of what looks to be thin garden hose, but is actually what someone squeezes when they buzz in with an answer.

The students, mostly juniors and seniors, will get questions that roughly fall into categories similar to a game like Trivial Pursuit.

The official Knowledge Bowl Pocket Box, complete with a “buzz-in” system, is used for all the oral practices.

Terik Merzkani, 16, said he enjoys the competition “and the aspect of practicing different areas, such as geography, literature — that coverage over everything, all topics; it makes it fun.”

However, keep the literature questions from him, he said.

“They’re hard,” he said.

Actually, they all seem hard. They could be about elements, or theories, or medicine — or that dreaded literature question: in which book does Mr. Magwitch appear?

A general “ohhhhhh” goes up. Answer: “Great Expectations,” Andersen intones, after no one answers correctly. More come, about sonnets and cities in Wyoming; about the Rough Riders and raptors. Then there is the math question asking about numbers that are squared and then squared again.

“What?” Andersen exclaims at one point. “I’ve never even heard of that.”

Arik Andersen works as coach and cheerleader for the Knowledge Bowl team. He could also be called the team father — two of his daughters have been on teams, and another son and daughter have shown their enthusiasm to belong once they are old enough to complete.

But if the atmosphere is competitive, it is also fun — much thanks to Andersen, who jokes and challenges the kids at the same time. This doesn’t feel like a classroom as much as a social hour where friends gather for a friendly game of trivia.

“And that’s it; it’s hard to study for,” said Andersen. “You just have to know it.”

The practice goes on for about an hour before students quickly pack up to leave. Andersen said most of them “are in multiple activities” and their days are full.

“These are good students, and they’re good kids,” he said.

There will be 56 teams gathering for sub-regions, he said, and the competition is tough. During a regular season tournament, the oral portion goes three rounds of 30 questions and 60 written questions. At the sub-regions, students will compete in five rounds of 45 questions each.

“It’s a whole day and it kicks your behind,” said Andersen. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”

The top 12 teams from sub-regions will advance to regions; the top three teams head to state competition in April.