April 14, 2002 – One student was sitting in the Palms Court Harborview lobby on St. Thomas with a large reference tome open in his lap. Downstairs, two others sat on the floor playing cards with another team's coach — until their own came along and called a private conference.
Five students sat in a circle listening to a teammate read from a paper. Another team of six sat studying from identical documents. Members of yet another team listened to their coach until they broke to go help carry in the buffet lunch for all the players.
They were all doing what they felt they needed to do, given that they would be tested shortly on music, literature, art, current events, recent American history, old African history, the Middle Ages, geography, the sciences, math, language, vocabulary, television programming, sports, movies … an infinite list of topics.
The scenario set the stage for the start at noon Sunday of the 2002 V.I. Quiz Bowl. In the first of three days of action, all teams but last year's champion, the Antilles School Brainstorms, were put to the test. The defenders treated themselves to an extra warm-up listening to Sunday's questions and answers before heading for the computers and the reference books like everyone else Sunday night.
Most of those in the audience throughout the day in the downtown hotel's conference room were the seven teams not up on the platform competing. Joining them were their cheering sections — team alternates, coaches, parents, siblings and school principals — and Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds.
In Sunday's four games, it was All Saints over Sts. Peter and Paul, Good Hope over Educational Complex, Charlotte Amalie over Central High, and Country Day over Eudora Kean. The Quiz Bowl has a double-elimination format, so all teams will have at least one more round of play. In full days on Monday and Tuesday starting at 8:30 a.m., the teams will meet for Games 5-8 and up to Game 17, if needed, until one team emerges either unbeaten or with only one loss.
The public is welcome to sit in on any of the rounds.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed Sunday's display of answers and non-answers — some speedy, some tardy, on or after time was called — provided by high schoolers who give every indication of liking to acquire knowledge for its own sake and who glory in knowing a little or more about a lot.
The audience got a kick out of repondents who would signal to answer before the moderator finished the question — and jumping the gun more often than not resulted in a wrong answer. But the question beginning,"She got on the subway to go to an audition …" got a quick buzz from St. Croix Educational Complex's Ilse Rivera with the correct answer: Jennifer Lopez.
On the other hand, dead silence followed the definitions in a word scramble segment: "Answer with two different words which use the same letters" to these definitions: "identical tableland" (same mesa) and "peel fruit" (pare pear). This section, said Diana Parker, who shared moderator duties with Mary Harley, was the hardest one she had known of, and Parker has been involved in many a Quiz Bowl over the years.
At one side, Sam Topp talked quietly into his microphone between game rounds for live broadcast on WVWI Radio. The station is carrying the competition in its entirety, and WTJX-TV/Channel 12 is videotaping a segment for later broadcast. Continuing a tradition of some years' standing, Topp abandoned his microphone to become a judge for Game 4.
Who makes it happen
Henrietta Warner has for a number of years been coordinator of the games. She was assisted this year by Parker and Naomi Williams. Recently retired Eudora Kean principal Sinclair Wilkinson was the reset official, and Gerald Walters was the official scorer. An electronic scoreboard kept the audience posted round by round.
The organizers publicly thanked the coaches, administrators, students and staff for their year-long preparations. The Antilles team members spent many of their school-lunch periods preparing, member Lane Sell said. Each school held twice monthly Quiz-O-Ramas from October to April, and several Rotary Clubs on St. Thomas provided a forum for competition as well.
The Quiz Bowl rules and regulations, four pages long, cover most of the "but what if's" that might come up. For example, a student who transfers from a school that participated the previous year must be enrolled for at least two semesters to represent his or her new school in the regional.
Each game consists of four rounds: Toss-up, Bonus, 60-Second and Stump the Experts. In some instances, team members must work independently with "no consulting, either verbally or in writing or by body language." In other cases, team members consult but only the captain may provide an answer.
Each game has three judges. In some cases on Sunday they were quite busy. In one case, proceedings were held up while they decided whether "moon" was an acceptable answer when the official answer was "crescent moon." Warner was on three of the four judging panels, and each included a coach whose team was not at the time competing.
The questions are compiled and published by Questions Unlimited Inc. of Columbus, Ohio. Several of those asked Sunday allowed Caribbean students to shine: For one, the answer was "iguana"; another concerned the geographical relation of Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico. On the other hand, both teams muffed the mainland geography question "What four states would you overfly in going from El Paso to Cheyenne?"
Major corporate sponsors for the V.I. Quiz Bowl this year are St. Thomas-St. John American Federation of Teachers Local 1825, WTJX, The West Indian Company, ATT of the Virgin Islands, Palms Court Harborview Hotel, and Hovensa. The Ken Berry Fund provided the buzzer system for the competition. Addressing the audience briefly, Simmonds stated her appreciation for the involvement of the AFT in this and other educational programs.
Teams consist of six members in grades 9-12– five who compete and one alternate; individual members have their own areas of academic specialization — physics, math, current events, sports, history, literature and so forth. This year, one team has no alternate. One has three seniors and another has three sophomores; few have a freshman aboard.
Lane, a junior, is in his third year of competition and hopes to make it a perfect four next year. Charlotte Amalie's captain, Deon LeCointe, is a senior also competing for the third time. Lane couldn't recall being nervous his first time out, because his team had been preparing all year. Deon said Sunday he was "nervous and hyper" the first time out, but now when he competes he's "settled" and knows he has the information he needs.
A 24-year tradition
This is the territory's 24th annual Quiz Bowl. For the first one, back in 1978, just four St. Thomas schools too part. In 1986, there were five schools each from St. Croix and St. Thomas. In 1997, a record 12 schools participated. This year there are nine.
All Quiz Bowl competitions were held on St. Thomas until 1996, when the devastation of Hurricane Marilyn the previous fall necessitated a move to St. Croix. That year, the competition took place at the St. Croix Educational Complex; it was held there again in 1998. Last year's almost wasn't held at all, for lack of funding. The go-ahead came just two weeks before the event, held on St. Croix at the Buccaneer Hotel with only four schools competing.
The annual winner goes on to represent the territory in national competition on the mainland in June.
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