Whatever the results, May's national Quiz Bowl championship in Chicago will be a bittersweet experience for Noah Marell, Natalie Ornat, Jonathan Anderson, and the remaining 15 members of the Armstrong High School Quiz Bowl team.
That's because the big event will mark the end of the team's eight-year career. As with activities such as the math team, chess club and debate team, the Quiz Bowl team has been deemed expendable by the Robbinsdale School District, which has had to cut $5 million out of its 2008-09 budget.
Efforts to secure community or corporate support to pick up the annual $4,000 Quiz Bowl team pricetag have so far been unsuccessful.
"From my perspective, this has been a really sad time," said Matt Quinn, Quiz Bowl team coach and founder, as he prepared Wednesday for the team's weekly practice session.
Quinn, who also is a social studies teacher, started the team when he first began teaching at the Plymouth high school, and has guided his teenage trivia buffs to national championship appearances four of the past five years, and to a big win at the Classic Lake Conference on Jan. 12.
On Wednesday, Quinn was firing clues in rapid succession at his Quiz Bowl kids, who were separated into two four-person teams, each student armed with an electric buzzer.
The gist of Quiz Bowl is this: The moderator reads off questions, and the first one who presses his or her buzzer answers the question. If the answer is incorrect, points are subtracted from the team's score. Get it right, and the team not only gets points, but also is allowed a bonus question, which, unlike the initial "tossup" question, can involve deliberations with teammates.
Skill at Quiz Bowl doesn't just involve knowledge, it's about knowing how quickly or deliberately to press your buzzer, and having a feel for your teammates' strengths and weaknesses.
"Sports is my niche," said Marell, a senior and one of the Quiz Bowl team captains. "But it's [also] about my ability to make four minds work together."
Marell, who got into Quiz Bowl to find a way to funnel his competitive drive after injuries forced him out of sports, is the team's foremost talent scout. For instance, he kept hectoring the team's literary whiz, Maren Hokanson, into joining the team because he realized she could remedy the team's deficiency in literature and the arts. She finally joined on the condition that he quit bothering her.
Now, the team is batting out answers like nobody's business: Ming Dynasty, the Hindenburg airship disaster, the Columbia River, the Prado Museum. Harder trivia questions would come later in preparation for tough national championship rounds. The mood is upbeat and jovial. But there's always the knowledge that Quiz Bowl at Armstrong is unlikely to be revived.
"I think it's kind of dumb," said Anderson, a sophomore. "Quiz Bowl and all these other things are being cut. It's sad that the younger kids won't be able to go into these things."
A dozen other Minnesota schools are participating in the high school Quiz Bowl championship, scheduled for May 23-25 by National Academic Quiz Tournaments.
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547