Saturday, February 1, 2014

Science Bowl, Part I

One of the advantages of going to Mississippi's math and science high school is that there are a lot more extracurricular activities available than what was previously available to me. One of these is science bowl.
I remember when I first came to the interest meeting for science bowl, and even the first several practices. The room was always crowded. I was even quieter than normal during those first few uncomfortable weeks of school. Some of those days, I hardly had a chance to sit down at a buzzer, much less get a question correct. The questions were far harder than anything I had ever tried before - they were much more complex than the science questions asked in quiz bowl.
I was discouraged, and weekly sessions of losing had me ready to quit. I decided to at least stay until I was cut from the team. If nothing else, it was practice for quiz bowl. I was used to quiz bowl practice four days a week, and just once weekly still seems like very little to me.
I really liked the way that science bowl was run. The sponsor kept track of points - who was scoring, and in what subject areas. As the year progressed, players were cut, until the final teams were chosen. A similar program for a quiz bowl team could clear up a lot of confusion that I know was present in my previous team about who was playing for competitions, why, and if feelings would be hurt. With the team run this way, I couldn't hurt anything by coming to practice while practices were open.
I was surprised when I made the first cut. Twenty-one players were kept and sorted into four teams. I've always had a very poor sense of how well I am doing at something as stressful as a competition of this sort without being able to see any numbers or scores. I've frequently played quiz bowl competitions where scores are not visible, and I am under the impression that we are losing, while we have actually beaten the opposing team by a wide margin.
I was captain for my team of five. We only played three games - one against each of the other teams. We lost the first two games, and finally won the last one. After that, I was certain that I would not be making it any farther. However, when the players were cut again, I had made the B team as co-captain. I would be playing at regionals.
Practices were soul-crushing. The A team won, every time, frequently quadrupling our score. (I wonder if that's why they were the A team.) As the regional competition loomed, we increased practices to twice a week, and then daily during the week leading up to competition. We beat the A team a mere two out of the many matches we played against each other.
The competition finally approached. Matches did not begin until 12:30, and this left far too much time for thought. I could not pay attention during my classes that morning. The whole team was stressed - especially before matches and during the frequent breaks. During the qualifying rounds, both of our teams won all three matches and progressed to the single elimination bracket.
Next, we had to draw letters for our places in the bracket. The A team captain drew first: E. I drew later: F. We were playing our own team. Only one of us would make it past the next round - we knew it would be the A team, and that then they would win the rest of the competition. We had joked all day about what would happen if we played each other. We had laughed because we hoped it wouldn't happen - or at least not until the finals.

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