RIDGEFIELD — When the chance of winning a national championship is on the line, things get tense. Tempers flare, egos clash and coaches hold on for dear life.
At least in some situations. Just not with Ridgefield’s Knowledge Bowl team: A group powerfully linked by meaningful friendships and camaraderie.
Make no mistake, however, the smiley group is fresh off their second straight 2A state title — an apparently dominant win — and is in the final stretch of preparations for two national competitions in Knowledge Bowl and Quiz Bowl. The latter competition will take place in person on Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta.
“Last year, we were really good, but there was one school we thought looked like a real champ. But when it came down to it, we beat them,” said David Jacobson, a history teacher serving as the team’s adviser. “But this year, we were just so far ahead. I had other coaches coming up to me asking, ‘How are you guys even doing this?’”
Much like the questions themselves, the layout for the competitions are brutal. Team members work together to complete a timed written section — typically 50 questions in 35 minutes — and then submit to a grueling series of oral rounds that often last hours on end. By the end of the day, after multiple rounds against different schools spawn winners’ and losers’ brackets, a champion is crowned.
The oral rounds are the scenes one might imagine when they hear about Knowledge Bowl or Quiz Bowl: teams of four competing head to head to buzz a buzzer quickest, prompting the team captain to announce their official answer.
After school Wednesday, the team carried on with practice as usual, with Jacobson peppering his group with questions. On one end was the team’s varsity unit: the group that would be representing the school on a national level. On the other was a group of junior varsity students who, in the first few dozen questions, seemed to have no trouble going toe-to-toe with varsity.
The groups giggled and jawed at one another in between questions about 16th century art, English political leaders from before their time, steps in the process of mitosis and more. With each question, the teams would typically buzz in within a few seconds and often before Jacobson was able to fully finish the prompt.
“Mr. Jacobson sometimes has us try to guess answers after hearing only like four words of the prompt,” said team captain Adam Ford, laughing.
Bonds with each other, community
Five students will represent Ridgefield on the national stage: Ford, James Haddix, Emi Newell, Stuart Swingruber and Asher Anderson. Each of the students bring to the table their own specific areas of strength.
For example, Haddix, a sophomore and Kurt Vonnegut fan, brings a depth of knowledge in literature to the table. Swingruber and Newell bring math and science. Ford, the captain, corners history and geography. And Anderson? “General knowledge:” a category sure to find success in Knowledge Bowl.
Every few dozen questions, teammates would switch out for one another, keeping each other fresh.
“These are kind of easy today,” one student said just after nailing a question about an obscure quote from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”
“Are these even high school questions?” asked another. “You should try giving these questions to the middle schoolers.”
On competition days, Jacobson said it’s important to eat healthy, get lots of sleep and stay hydrated to avoid mental fatigue.
“I’ve seen schools start really hot and then later in the day, you can tell, they just hit a wall, get frustrated and fall out of it,” he said.
In the heat of the moment, Ford, the captain, said he and his teammates find solace in their ability to work as a team rather than pin missteps on each other — a common sight under pressure.
“We succeed together and we fail together,” he said. “It all starts with us keeping a friendly environment.”
Beyond each other, Jacobson and the students point to the community in Ridgefield for helping them feel confident. This year, the team received over $12,000 in donations — enough to support them throughout the year and to cover travel expenses to Atlanta, a chance they hadn’t been able to get as tournaments in previous years were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ridgefield has always been good in this competition,” Jacobson said. “But this group is something else.”