Announcing the Bounceback Foundation

A Message from Play Quiz Bowl president Erik Nelson

Quiz bowl players, coaches, staffers, and enthusiasts,

Over the past several months, I’ve given considerable thought to what quiz bowl has done for me in the nearly 20 years (!) I’ve been involved with it in some fashion. I’ve reflected a lot on the community this game has fostered, the support it has given me and others, and what I can do to best give back. As a person who has suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, I’ve thought about how quiz bowl has gotten me through so many difficult times, in high school and as an adult. These issues are ever-present in this community, and the opportunity exists to do more to help kids and young adults who struggle in the same way I did.

With that in mind, I’m proud to announce the formation of the Bounceback Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting positive mental health in the quiz bowl community and raising money for causes that promote mental health support and awareness for young people. Among its non-fundraising goals are to provide handouts and other materials for players and teams that provide information on professional mental health resources and how to recognize the signs of a possible crisis. The foundation also seeks to promote a positive and safe environment in all quiz bowl-related activities, from team practices to national tournaments, and to end the stigma that surrounds talking about mental illness.

The Bounceback Foundation is (pending document approval) a 501c3 non-profit organization, for which donations are entirely tax deductible. Funds to the foundation, at the time of this announcement, are designated to be given to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Trevor Project. The foundation’s board will regularly meet to discuss possible changes to the recipients of these funds and other matters concerning the regular operations of the foundation.

As a result of the above, all further sales of Play Quiz Bowl shirts or similar merchandise will benefit the Bounceback Foundation. Because of this, Play Quiz Bowl’s “new team grant” program is being discontinued. All funds currently reserved for that purpose will remain so for the next 12 months and grant applications will be considered in that time frame. Any funds that remain after that period (on or around November 1, 2018) will be given to the Bounceback Foundation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I want all quiz bowl players at all levels to know – please know that you are valuable and important, and that if you are struggling you are not alone. If you or a loved one is in need of help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Erik Nelson
President of Play Quiz Bowl and Director of the Bounceback Foundation

2017 HSNCT Preview: Minnesota’s Teams

The 2017 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament is being held May 27-28 in Atlanta, Georgia. At 304 teams, it is poised to become the largest quiz bowl tournament ever held, and there will be 24 teams from Minnesota competing for hardware. Play Quiz Bowl is pleased to provide a preview of these teams (plus one honorable mention) heading into HSNCT weekend, with info on their performances over the season.

Burnsville

School: Burnsville High School
Coach: Les Moffitt
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Blake Andert (senior), Connor Van Dorpe (senior), Nick Schatz (junior), Matthew Fischer (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: South Suburban Conference champions, 4th place in MNHSQB League, 5th place at NAQT State Championship

Les Moffitt has turned Burnsville into one of the state’s top programs, with two straight top-5 finishes at the NAQT State Championship. Their “A” team will retain three of the four players that went 7-3 in the prelims of last year’s HSNCT. Senior Blake Andert is Burnsville’s highest scoring player ever (per NAQT per-game statistics) and is coming off an 80 PPG performance at the Wisconsin spring tournament, at which Burnsville went 10-0.

Chanhassen

School: Chanhassen High School
Coach: Kate Martens
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Karsen Megrenes (junior), Mitchell Mollet (sophomore), Alex Gannon (freshman), Nick Berg (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at Run for the Roses

Chanhassen’s core players have improved quickly, and none of its “A” team members are seniors. Their strong performance at this year’s Run for the Roses suggest they’re peaking at the right time, with ample time to continue to get better.

Chaska

School: Chaska High School
Coach: Chris Lenius
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Sean Zipse (senior), Coby Oertel (senior), William Saathoff (senior), Colton Juell (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 4th place at NAQT State Championship, 5th place at Run for the Roses, 2nd place at Metro West Conference Championship

Chaska has a long history of strong teams on the Minnesota circuit, and this year was no exception. This will be the last hurrah for this team of seniors, which includes Coby Oertel and Sean Zipse, whose career PPG puts them in Chaska’s all-time top 10. Chaska also finished third in the state’s Knowledge Bowl meet, the highest finish of any team also competing at HSNCT.

Eden Prairie

School: Eden Prairie High School
Coach: Josh Axtman, Alyssa Jackson
Number of teams: 3
Probable starters: Nibir Sarma (junior), Carter Rislove (senior), Winston Chen (junior), Clay Crepps (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: NAQT State Champions, 2nd place at SNOW CAT, 2nd place at WIZARD, 4th place at GINVIT

Eden Prairie found itself in familiar territory this season, pulling off a win at the state championship over their own B team. Their showing at the MNHSQB playoffs was not as strong, in large part due to a somewhat shorthanded roster. Their ideal “A” team is very well balanced, with strong players in across the NAQT distribution. They finished 7-3 in last year’s HSNCT prelims; they return two players from that team and add Nibir Sarma, whose 40 PPG on EP’s “C” team last year was the second-highest of any Eden Prairie player.

Hopkins

School: Hopkins High School
Coach: John Sammler
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: John Vaaler (junior), Maxim Peng (senior), Jack Selinger (junior), Armand Martinez (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 13th place in MNHSQB Leauge, 9th place at WIZARD

Hopkins has been anchored by John Vaaler and Maxim Peng for a couple of seasons now, and will have them both in tow at HSNCT. John finished in the top 5 in scoring at this season’s GINVIT, as was in the top 10 in the state in scoring during MNHSQB League. This is the school’s first appearance at HSNCT since 2012.

Minnetonka

School: Minnetonka High School
Coach: Judith Thomas
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Parthiv Krishna (sophomore), Max Meyer (freshman), Isaac Schrof (senior), Drew Dutton (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at Run for the Roses, 9th place at WIZARD

The future looks bright for Minnetonka, who counts two underclassmen (Max Meyer and Parthiv Krishan) among its strongest players. They have been formidable this year when at full strength, and will be looking to match or improve upon their performance at their last HSNCT appearance (2014, 5-5).

Mounds Park

School: Mounds Park Academy
Coach: Jay Noland
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Sidney Carlson White (senior), Teja Upadhyaya (senior), Nick Samsel (senior), Ben George (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 4th place at SSNCT (Charter/Private), 2nd place at GINVIT, 4th place at SNOW CAT, 4th place at Run for the Roses

It’s the end of an era for Mounds Park – this tournament will be the last high school meet for Sidney Carlson White, who was by far the state’s top scorer at MNHSQB League and finished with 100 or more PPG six times this season. He’ll be at Yale in the fall. MPA’s middle school team recorded a historic 2nd place finish at MSNCT this year, but none of those players (including star in the making Isak Dai) will be on the HSNCT squad.

Mounds View

School: Mounds View High School
Coach: Justin Benolkin
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: William Amendola Bye (junior), Justin Duffy (senior), Joey Floeder (senior), Aryan Sehgal (freshman)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at WIZARD, 13th place at MNHSQB League, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Mounds View’s William Amendola Bye and Justin Duffy are the two highest-scoring players in Mounds View history according to NAQT’s database. They ended with a 5-5 finish at last year’s HSNCT, and both will be back to compete again this year, as will senior Joey Floeder. Their “A” team was an impressive 10-2 in divisional play during the MNHSQB League, during which they handed Isak Dai’s Mounds Park C team its only loss.

Orono

School: Orono High School
Coach: Larry Williams
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Gavin Mueller (freshman), Jeremy Skalla (junior), Owen Albrecht (junior), Ben Greiber (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at MNHSQB League, 9th place at SOCIAL, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Freshman Gavin Mueller led Orono in points during the MNHSQB League season, where they eliminated a strong St. Louis Park team during the playoffs. The rest of the team is all juniors, who have all improved since their appearance at last year’s HSNCT, where they finished 4-6.

Providence

School: Providence Academy
Coach: Kevin Keiser
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Ryan Heaney (senior), Marty Partoll (senior), Natalie Heyda (senior), Derek Onserio (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 6th place at MNHSQB League, 5th place at SOCIAL, 9th place at RATRACE

Providence Academy is relatively new to quiz bowl – their first season was 2013-14 – but they have already established themselves as a very strong presence in the local circuit. This year’s “A” team wen 11-1 in League play, losing only to Wayzata A. They did not play in many Saturday tournaments this season, but always finished strong when they did appear – senior Ryan Heaney was the 8th-highest scorer at RATRACE, and will likely lead the team in Atlanta.

Robbinsdale Armstrong

School: Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
Coach: Phil Wiese
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Matthew Penick (junior), Julianne Brandes (junior), Felicia Peterson (junior), Daniel Anderson (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 5th place at WIZARD, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Armstrong is in its first year since the departure of long-time coach Matt Quinn, though new coach Phil Wiese has led the team to several solid finishes. Matthew Penick has taken former standout Jack Brandes’s place as the team’s leader and was one of the state’s top juniors this year – his 81 PPG was good for 5th overall in League scoring.

St. Louis Park

School: St. Louis Park High School
Coach: Peter Dangerfield
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Will Poulter (senior), Nick Kasic (senior), Jack Wheeler (senior), Danny Hunegs (sophomore)
2016-17 Highlights: Metro West Conference Champions, 9th place at NAQT State Championships, 13th place at MNHSQB League

Over the last few seasons, St. Louis Park has emerged as a serious contender on the state’s circuit, finishing in the top 10 at each of the last two state championships. They ran the table to win the Metro West Conference title; Will Poulter led that tournament in scoring with 78 PPG.

St. Paul Academy

School: St. Paul Academy and Summit School
Coach: Kate Lockwood
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Peter Blanchfield (junior), Coleman Thompson (senior), Paul Watkins (senior), Phoebe Pannier (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 6th in MNHSQB League, 2nd at Run for the Roses

At this season’s WIZARD, SPA’s Peter Blanchfield went undefeated during the morning session playing solo, and earned the tournament’s overall scoring title. With teammates, he and the rest of SPA reached the finals of Run for the Roses, beating both Burnsville and Mounds Park in the process.

Wayzata

School: Wayzata High School
Coach: Meaghan Decker, Brian Decker
Number of teams: 6
Probable starters: Tora Husar (junior), Joe Kammann (junior), Ashmita Sarma (senior), Kush Maheshwari (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: MNHSQB League Champions, 1st place at Run for the Roses, 1st place at GINVIT, 1st place at SNOW CAT, 3rd place at NAQT State Championships

Wayzata is bringing a preposterous six teams to HSNCT this year, but all eyes will be on their “A” team. While they faltered slightly at the state championship, it would be fair to say that Wayzata dominated the circuit this season. Typically anchored by Tora Husar and Joe Kammann (both juniors), Wayzata A’s record on the MN circuit this season was 93-2, with one of those losses coming against their own C team at RATRACE. At least year’s HSNCT, Wayzata finished tied for 13th – can they improve upon that this year?

Honorable Mention: Hudson

School: Hudson High School
Coach: Roberta Naujok
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Jaxon Renn (senior), Nick Janssen (junior), Nick Hanson (junior), Ryan Harper (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 1st place at Holmen High Invitational, 17th place at Run for the Roses

While Hudson is across the border from Minnesota, it does compete on the Minnesota circuit, and will also be attending HSNCT this year. They narrowly missed the MNHSQB League playoffs despite a very strong 8-4 record, as this year’s south division was stacked. This team is no slouch, however – they won the Holmen High Invitational in April, against a field that included Burnsville and Stoughton, another of Wisconsin’s best teams.

PQB Interview: Rob Carson

In the last dozen years, Rob Carson has established himself as a positive force in the quiz bowl community. In addition to being one of the game’s greatest players (and a national champion alongside friend and teammate Andrew Hart), Rob has helped produce countless national tournaments as a writer, editor and staffer. His positive influence on the game is seen daily on the hsquizbowl.org forums, where he serves as an administrator. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Rob about his experiences with the game, how it kept him going, and what new players can do to make their marks.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Rob Carson – I got hectored into playing Knowledge Bowl my sophomore year of high school and then quizbowl the year after. In retrospect I have no idea why I was so resistant to it (possibly due to the specific people doing much of the hectoring?) but I immediately took to it. I wish I’d been persuaded earlier!

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career – where did you play? What were some of your career highlights?

RC – I played at Chaska High School, then all through my undergrad career at the University of Minnesota, then a year or two after graduation I played for a few years while taking classes part-time at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

My high school and early college career took place during an important transitional period for quizbowl–in my senior year of high school, we could only make it to one national tournament for a variety of reasons, so we chose Chip Beall’s National Academic Championship, which was on its last legs of even minor relevance. We got second in the country, beating our longtime hometown rivals St. Thomas Academy in the semifinals and losing in typically fishy NAC fashion to a team from noted Chip stronghold Worcester County, NY, who benefited from a suspiciously perfect-for-their-strengths lightning round category.

As a college freshman, I was on the Minnesota team that won the second-to-last-ever CBI national championship, an equally deprecated format descended from the old College Bowl radio and TV shows. We beat a strong USC team in the finals, but forewent the tournament the next year in favor of ACF Nationals. That tournament was a highlight–our all-underclassman team won the first-ever official ACF Undergraduate national championship in an exciting match against Dartmouth. I fondly recall getting an early buzz on a tossup on Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s novel Some Prefer Nettles due to having literally selected it at random to read about in Masterplots the week before.

Other career highlights include the time Andrew Hart and I edited 90% of a tournament in a three-day fugue state (the first tournament we’d ever edited, no less), editing a bunch of other generally-well-received tournaments, winning Chicago Open in 2009, winning the CULT national pop culture championship in 2010, finishing an agonizingly close second place at ACF Nationals in 2010 and 2011, leading the 2013 ICT in scoring, and racking up various ICT trophies, including several Undergrad championships and, eventually, a DI title–but more on that later.

PQB – What was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

RC – Oh my god, everything. I love the act playing the game itself, not just because it feeds my natural desire to show off facts that I know, but because it’s a great tool to reinforce memory and learning that I’d be doing anyway–I’d be reading books or Wikipedia articles for fun anyway, but I’ve developed a sense for retaining details thanks to quizbowl. Andrew Hart talked about this too, but taking a very generalist approach is a lot of fun for me–I like always being able to compete on basically any question.

I also really love the camaraderie I developed with my teammates, and by extension the friendships I’ve made with other quizbowlers from, really, all walks of life. Traveling was and is such a joy, whether it’s the thousandth drive down I-94 from Minneapolis to Chicago or a flight to a national tournament halfway across the country. So many of the most important relationships in my life–my significant other, Bernadette Spencer; many of my best friends, including Andrew Hart, Carsten Gehring, Mike Cheyne, Ike Jose, and so many others–originated in or were significantly cemented by quizbowl.

I think what I’m most grateful to quizbowl for, though, is that it was really a rock during some fairly personally difficult times in my life. Not to get too indulgent here, but I dealt with depression of varying but constant seriousness through much of college, and in its roles as both a social lifeline and something I just plain liked to do, quizbowl’s constant presence really helped me pull through.

PQB – Your national championship came by way of an unusual circumstance. How do you look back on that tournament, and the events that followed? [Editor’s note – this question was also asked to Andrew Hart, Rob’s teammate. For another perspective, read his interview.]

RC – Haha, it’s an odd experience in toto. I’ve talked about this with people before, but the weirdest thing was I didn’t feel particularly bad about how things ended during the tournament (the real crushing blow came a week or two later at ACF Nationals, after we got out-grinded in the finals by a Yale team led by a young Matt Jackson and it felt like I’d never be able to win a legit academic national championship). At ICT, though, I thought we’d basically played our best, confidently charging through our pre-Harvard matches, and were just a couple tossups short of pulling out both of our matches against Harvard, like we’d ran out of time rather than been solidly KOed. I personally thought I was basically at my peak of playing the game by feel, as exemplified by the tossup on South Sudan in the finals that I powered based on no particular knowledge, just an idea that South Sudan would absolutely be something NAQT would toss up and that that’s probably what it would sound like.

Anyway, we didn’t win, not least because one Andrew Watkins uncharacteristically nailed the history tossup that concluded the finals match. Andy tended to play his absolute best at ICTs, and while he was a writer and editor for NAQT, so were many other active collegiate quizbowlers. A few people had suggested something might be up on and off for a couple of years by that point, but no one paid it too much mind until NAQT finally carried out more thorough security audits in 2013 and revealed, among other things, that he’d been the dishonest bad-faith cheating jerk we now know him to be, and the rumormongers were 100% correct.

Getting suddenly handed the title two years after the fact was weird–it felt very nice to have our team’s skill and success confirmed by an official title, but it will always be a little hollow in that we didn’t get to experience any of the in-the-moment rush or enjoyment of winning. Irony-drenched celebratory condemnations on the anniversary of the cheating revelations are nice, but they’re kind of cold comfort compared to the lost experience of winning for “real”.

On the other hand, 2011 ICT was the tournament where I first-lined an opera tossup against John Lawrence and then leapt to my feet and taunted him about it, so I’ll always have that!

PQB – Since the end of your formal playing days, you’ve continued to contribute to the game as a leader of the community, as well as a writer, editor and much more. What keeps you so committed to improving the game?

RC – The simple answer is a genuine love of the game and appreciation for everything it did for me. As I mentioned, it was the rock that helped me survive college, so at the base level I feel a little obligated to give back anything I can! But it’s more than that–I really enjoy everything about it. I will happily drag myself out of bed at 7am on a Saturday (or spend many hours traveling) to staff tournaments, I really enjoy writing questions, I love playing in opens. I think quizbowl has a ton of value as a supplement to a traditional educational path, since it rewards both specific depth of study and a more omnivorous freelance approach, and it exposes those involved in it to a ton of ideas and areas of learning that might otherwise be passed over or never noticed.

PQB – How has quiz bowl affected your life outside of the game? What skills has it given you that you’ve applied to other jobs and situations?

RC – I think the most direct effect is that writing and editing gives me a not-insignificant secondary income that allows me to work a regular job less than full time, and have the freedom to put in lots of time doing volunteer work for quizbowl! It’s also strengthened my memory for facts and details, which will really benefit a person in pretty much any job. Writing questions is a valuable exercise for learning how to communicate facts and ideas clearly and concisely, and can also really strengthen one’s research skills.

PQB – What advice would you give to a student who is interested in joining a quiz bowl team?

RC – The best thing I can tell you is to not be intimidated–which, of course, is often easier said than done, but there’s some very specific mental pitfalls you can work to avoid. The vast breadth of “stuff that gets asked about at quizbowl tournaments” can seem extremely daunting at first–I spent a lot of time my freshman year of college despairing that I would ever get anywhere with it–but it’s good to remember that you’re not being expected to know it all right away, or to ever know it all yourself. Quizbowl isn’t as arbitrary as some trivia games; by its very nature, ending tossup questions with easy or widely-known clues and including easy parts in each bonus gives a new player a place to start learning things.

A great first step is to just read a bunch of questions–to yourself, in practice, with your friends, wherever and whenever. This helps give you a sense of the things that are regularly asked about and thus provides a direction for further investigation (in addition, it gives you a pretty good sense of what you already know!). Then, find whatever interests you–of really any breadth, from a general subject like mythology or literature to whatever specific question topics pique your interest–and start reading. The biggest thing to remember about quizbowl is that it’s very possible to deliberately get better: anything you don’t know about is something that you can learn about, and it’ll probably come up again in the future!

Outside the specific area of playing the game, I think one of my favorite things about quizbowl is that it’s a very come-as-you-are activity. Specific situations may vary, unfortunately, but the quizbowl world is by and large very accepting, a general lack of overly strict dress codes or procedures being perhaps the most outwardly obvious example of that attitude. Enthusiasm, more than anything, is rewarded. Remember that there’s always room in quizbowl for people with any level of playing skill. It may seem intimidating, but the community will not exclude you for not being a good player! If all you ever want to do is play casually, that’s great and I welcome you; the same goes if you want to be the best player, and it also goes if you don’t really care about playing at all but like running tournaments or doing logistics or whatever else–quizbowl couldn’t exist without those people either.

PQB – Somewhat similar to the above, what advice would you give to a new player who wants to get better?

RC – The capsule advice I give lots of very new players in Minnesota who are specifically looking to get better at quizbowl is “read a lot of packets, then learn literature”. You can gain a lot of ground as a newbie by picking an area teams are often weak in, like literature or fine arts, and doing some very basic studying and memorization of things like creator-creation lists. Nailing down basic fact associations like this gives you a great foundation on which to build more detailed knowledge, and also changes unanswered tossups on things you’ve never heard of into, at least, tossups you can convert at the end.