The winning edge

Published 9:42 pm Monday, February 10, 2014

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State-bound St. Aloysius quiz bowl team filled with athletes

St. Aloysius is becoming dominant in a competition that’s more interested in IQs and grade-point averages rather than 40-yard dash times, vertical leaps and slaloms.
The school isn’t one of the largest Class 1A schools in the state, with 167 enrolled in grades 9-12. With numbers that small, students tend play multiple sports and participate in several other extracurricular activities.
One of those activities is quiz bowl and St. Al’s team, made up almost entirely of athletes, is making a run for a state title. It would be the school’s first in the competition.
“Competition is competition, be it mental or physical,” St. Aloysius athletic director and football coach B.J. Smithhart said. “We get to spend a lot more time with them in various aspects, being a small school. We like to do well in everything and this team has really taken off.”
The team is in the semifinals of the state competition at Mississippi College and is blasting the old cliché about “dumb jocks” to pieces in the process.
“Typically, your athletes are your good students,” said Dawn Meeks, who is in her first year coaching the quiz bowl team at St. Al. “I think those two things play off each other.”
The Flashes will play Clinton on Feb. 25 in the semis for a chance at the state title match, which would follow a few hours after the semifinals.
Team captain Luke Eckstein — who was also part of the science and mathematics team that finished third in the state along with quiz bowl teammate Jacob Kitchens — believes playing so soon after the semifinals could be to the Flashes’ advantage. Having athletes on the team who’ve faced pressure situations add to St. Al’s mental edge.
“You’re more aggressive and that’s one of the biggest things,” Eckstein said. “There are people who are smart, but who are passive and don’t do very well at this. If you’re more aggressive, you have that competitive spirit from athletics and you do well. We’re a little slower at the start of matches and tend to finish strong at the end. I think playing them (the semifinals and finals) back-to-back would be to our advantage.”
The road to the final four wasn’t an easy one for St. Al. The team beat quiz bowl powerhouses Jackson Prep, Madison-Ridgeland and Presbyterian Christian to earn their place. In their last match, the Flashes scored 425 points, an astronomical figure.
“In 20 years, that’s the highest score I’ve ever seen,” said Meeks, who was a teacher for 28 years at Warren Central. She coached the WC quiz bowl team for 19 years.
The team is composed of Eckstein (cross country, basketball, track and tennis), Kitchens (football), Rob Sanders (swimming), Travis Blanche (cross-country), Lara Lamanilao (drum major), Ken Cook (track), Dylan McBride (football), Dixon Stone (swimming), Chris Sanders (cross country and track), Charlie Martin (swimming), Channing Curtis (golf) and Bash Brown (football and track).
Just like football, cross-country, basketball or swimming, there are grueling tryouts that separate the wheat from the chaff. Quiz bowl hopefuls take a test and are whittled down to 12 candidates. Also like any sport, the team practices every day, either after school or on their breaks between classes.
The setup is simple. Two teams of several players sit at a table with a set of hand-held buzzers facing a moderator, who asks questions. Anyone can buzz in to answer the question and the first one to hit their button locks out the rest. There are two types of questions: toss-ups and bonuses. The toss-ups can be answered by any player. If the answer is incorrect, no other player from that team can answer and the other team has an opportunity to answer the question correctly. The bonus question is addressed to a team who answers a toss-up correctly. Unlike the toss-up, a team can confer on the answer to the bonus, which can have multiple parts. The team with the highest score wins.
Above all, the competition gives the players a chance to show off the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years. In the case of several, that’s quite a lot.
“There’s a lot of stuff in my head and I’ve moved around a lot, been a lot of places,” Eckstein said. “There’s a lot of knowledge in there and this gives me a chance to use it.”

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