Scholastic Bowl Meets its Goal

Frani O’Toole

[caption id="attachment_3770" align="alignnone" width="300"]photo 1 From left to right: Josh Martin, Simon Ricci, Brian Lorenz, Ken Jennings, Yinga Xia, Julius Reiner, Tatiana Novak, MJ Porzenheim, Mr. Legendre.[/caption]

Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs—this is part of the title of a book written by Ken Jennings, 74-time Jeopardy! champion. Or it is a description tailored to the Latin School Scholastic Bowl team. It’s a toss-up, really.


On February 5th, Ken Jennings spoke to the Latin 3rd and 4th grade to promote his new book series, Junior Genius. Jennings—whose winnings over 74 consecutive Jeopardy! matches total to $2,522,700, earning him the title of “Most cash won on a game show” in the Guinness Book of World Records—spoke to the students assembled about spending time outside of school to learn for the sake of learning. The Scholastic Bowl team sat in on his presentation, and afterward Sophomore Simon Ricci approached him to sign the library’s copy of Brainiac and an autograph book Simon had from competing in the 2011 National Spelling Bee, where Jennings was the keynote speaker.


Though Jennings wasn’t originally scheduled to interact with the high schoolers at all, Mr. Legendre hoped he would play a no-stakes, no-buzzers match with the Scholastic Bowl team. Jennings had himself, at Brigham Young University, played on the school’s Quizbowl team for three and a half years. Recently, too, Simon Ricci says Jennings has “written and edited questions for Quizbowl tournaments, as well as moderated at Nationals a few times, so he’s become part of the Scholastic Bowl world.” Accepting the challenge, Jennings competed against eight members of the Scholastic Bowl team. “Playing him was incredible,” Simon says. The questions were devised by Mr. Legendre and approved by Ms. Etchingham—Jennings correctly answered questions on Diwali, Virginia Woolf, the Chilean Miners, Artificial Intelligence, Game Theory, and the Mayans; Latin got questions on the War of the Roses, Hooke’s law of elasticity, Justinian the Great, Andrew Jackson, Albert Camus, Diego Velazquez, Johann Strauss Jr., and Edgar Allen Poe. With 4 answered toss-ups, Senior Yinga Xia was Latin’s high scorer. And, with the team’s eight total points to Jennings’s four points, Latin won.


“Playing Ken Jennings was a blast,” Yinga says, “I didn’t know much about Ken Jennings before he came to Latin because I don’t follow Jeopardy! much, but I’ve always admired people who learn for the sake of learning.” Seeing how graciously he handled losing the match, Simon said he came to respect Jennings even more: “after it was done, he wasn’t at all fazed. I think he’s pretty used to getting challenged, but he’s down-to-earth enough that he’s able to applaud someone who knows more than he does.”

Latin’s win, while enjoyed, isn’t too surprising considering its record this year. Playing in the top division of tournaments all year, Simon says the team has faced “the toughest schools in the Midwest, including six teams in the top 20 in the country.” The team has had, among many, notable wins against IMSA’s A team—which is ranked #3 in the country and #1 in Illinois—, Auburn School—ranked #18 in the country—, and Detroit Catholic Central—#19 nationwide and #1 in Michigan. Latin’s team is ranked 77th in the country right now, though their standings have climbed as high as #62 this year.

As for upcoming events, look forward to hearing the results from the IHSA and the High School National Championship Tournament in Chicago, early this June. If the team’s past performance this year is any indication, it’s safe to assume they will do very well. Here’s the million-dollar question, though: what’s the team’s secret? “The reason I love Scholastic Bowl,” Yinga says, is that, like she experienced in the match with Ken Jennings, “you get to meet and play against people who are endlessly curious, who get you interested in things you never thought you would be interested in before.” Now that’s a winning philosophy.]]>