Scholars bowl teams compete for challenge and enjoyment

Updated: Feb 21

The Jayhawk-Linn team members include, front row from left, Madeline Batcheler, Marlee Thompson, Lukas Felix, Emily Johnson, Marissa Batcheler; back row, coach Darrah Batcheler, Siera Laderer, Brevin Mendenhall, Zachary Knemeyer, Scott Harp, Josie Stults, and (not pictured) Zachary Grant. (Photo courtesy of Darrah Batcheler)

In a normal year as many as 10 students, four or five from each school, sit at desks lined up facing the moderator. In the back of the room, parents, friends and team alternates sit quietly observing.

But this season scholars bowl has been anything but normal because of the pandemic, and while many of the meets have been in-person, several of them have been online-only events.

Regardless of the format, in each round the moderator asks 10 questions, one at a time, and the competitors race to see who can push the buzzer button first and answer correctly.

If the answer is right, the student’s team scores 10 points. If it is not, the opposing team has the opportunity to answer the question correctly.

It is an intense 15- to 20-minute round as the two teams battle it out to earn the most points. The teams switch rooms and take on other schools as they vie to win the tournament by amassing the highest score.

It’s mostly mental

Unlike other school competitions, this one is all mental, relying on the gears turning inside the students’ heads as they search their memories for the correct answer or the specific mathematical formula. Questions come from the fields of language arts, social studies, mathematics, science and physical education/health.

Since mid-fall, scholars bowl teams from Jayhawk, Pleasanton and Prairie View high schools have been practicing and then competing against other schools in the region.

Like a more sophisticated game of Trivial Pursuit, success at scholars bowl relies on contestants being able to store a considerable amount of knowledge in their brains, sometimes about events and trends that happened well before their time.

Pleasanton senior Cole Coffey has been competing in tournaments since he was in eighth grade. An avid reader, he said he also trains by watching Jeopardy and other trivia shows. His specialties are mythology and English literature.

Prairie View senior Ashton Howard also came up through the ranks of the middle school school program. And while he relies on the Internet for some of his research in his specialties, politics and history (specifically Industrial Revolution up to present day), he mostly relies on encyclopedias and books to widen his knowledge.

Jayhawk’s Zachary Knemeyer, who has been on the team for two years, is a trivia buff. It is the main reason he decided to join the team. A Renaissance man who likes history, art, science, music and math, he enjoys the tournaments and practices because he likes to learn. Like the rest of the Jayhawk team, he goes over past questions to hone his skills.

Just like any competition, stepping up to the challenge of testing knowledge quickly and accurately is the same. A common thread for contestants from all three teams in the county was the same: “It’s fun.”

The Pleasanton High School scholars bowl team includes, from left, coach Shelby Karst, Zoe Taylor, Amber Nash, Cole Coffey, and Peyton Greene. (Photo courtesy of Shelby Karst)

This is the first year coaching scholars bowl for Pleasanton High School, said coach Shelby Karst, a social studies teacher, who is new to the district this year. However, she participated in scholars bowl during her high school career.

It had been 10 years since she sat in a tournament with a buzzer in front of her, so it took a while for her to catch up on new rules and get herself reacquainted with the activity. But she was eager to do it.

“When I learned they needed a coach, I jumped at the chance,” she said. Like any first-year teacher who takes on an an activity, Karst has a team that doesn’t have many members. However, that number is likely to grow as students become more familiar with her.

Diverse interests, one team

One of the more interesting aspects of the teams are how they attract students who might otherwise have little in common.

Pam Dunlop, Prairie View’s coach, said the program creates many bridges between students. She said it brings together students who excel academically and students who may not be in line for valedictorian who who are avid readers outside the classroom.

‘There’s a great camaraderie among the team members,” she said.

Jayhawk-Linn High School coach Darrah Batcheler, who teaches math, said she sees similar action between her team members.

“Each of the students interact differently with each other because they are different types of students,” she said. “We have athletes, cheerleaders, students involved with band and choir, and just students.

“They all have different lifestyles and are all strong in different academic areas, so they mesh well together.”

She added that despite the diversity in the background of students, they approach meets as any team would. “Since we have such a diverse group this year, they all like to have the competitive feel when they get to the tournaments.”

Getting in practice isn’t easy

Practicing for meets is something of a problem because team members are also involved in other after-school activities. Prairie View’s Creed Caldwell, a senior, is an example of that.

Caldwell plays in the school band, runs cross country, plays basketball, and looks to compete in trap shooting. His specialties are history and music, and he likes being challenged to think. Above all, he said, he doesn’t like losing.

Jayhawk juniors Madeline Batcheler and her sister Marissa Batcheler are distance runners as well as being involved in other school activities. Madeline specializes in history and language arts questions, while Marissa focuses on history, science and “sometimes math.”

Prairie View senior Hallie Snyder is also involved in many school activities. The daughter of PVHS math teacher Tamala Snyder, she concedes that her specialty is math – she is taking calculus and trigonometry – along with language arts and science.

So when the difficult math questions are asked, other team members write down the question but usually look to her for the correct answer. It is not uncommon for team members who aren’t as well versed in math or foreign languages to look to those who are for correct answers.

But Snyder, who is also writing a book, says her proficiency in language arts is also helpful when questions about grammar and authors are asked.

The Prairie View High School team includes, front row from left, John Buck, Dylon Dearborn, Cole Holler, Kate Joly, Alee Sombatchareun, Hallie Snyder, Jenna Thompson, Mary Jane Britz, Ashton Howard; back row, Collin Pope, Creed Caldwell, Sam Clark, Mason Mitzner, Colten McCrea, Jacob Law, and (not pictured) Garrison Akes and Kinley Baker. (Photo by Roger Sims, Linn County Journal)

Whether it is school activities or involvement outside of school, many of the competitors have equally busy schedules.

Prairie View senior Dylon Dearborn, is a history buff and a student of pop culture and mythology. He spends much of his time honing his knowledge by soaking in the news, whether it is the New York Times, the BBC, watching YouTube or even perusing the Infowars website.

Pleasanton sophomore Peyton Greene, who specializes in history and sports, may have found the perfect event to justify his love for watching sports. But he also spends his time reading and looking up information – right now background for his interest in the 1940s and World War II.

KSHSAA limits tournaments

According to Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) rules, a student can compete in no more than eight regular season meets (nine if the school sponsors a meet). So Dunlop has been busy getting all of her students some time in the competition – 16 in all, counting varsity and junior varsity tournaments.

So far, that has worked out well. “We’ve placed in almost every meet.” That includes last week placing second in the Pioneer League meet. Much of the team’s success hinges on the keeping the interest of its members while getting new competitors on board.

Jayhawk Lukas Felix is a first-year member of the team. Specializing in math, science and history, he said he joined to have fun, relax and learn new things. His teammate, Josie Stults, on the other hand, has competed for five years including time in junior high. A language arts specialist, she still thinks it’s fun.

Amber Nash, a Pleasanton senior who specializes in science, music and theater, has also been in competition for five years and likes being able to join with friends as they compete. Her teammate freshman Zoe Taylor is a first-year competitor. She said she still wasn’t sure about her long-term involvement in the competition, but agreed to try out anything once. She is still on the team.

Prairie View freshman Mason Mitzner became involved with scholars bowl as a sixth-grader. “My dad was into history and was involved with the historical society in La Cygne,” he said. To keep his history skills up, Mitzner makes it a point to watch the History Channel.

His teammate John Burk, a junior, is new to the game this year. Burk, who specializes in history, geography and science, was persuaded to join the team when a friend joined. “I went to the first meet and fell in love it,” he said.

The teams are getting ready to go on to regional and, hopefully, state competitions over the next few weeks, ending a long season full of memories and camraderie.

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