Kickapoo’s Scholar Bowl Team: The Under-The-Radar Juggernaut

Pop quiz, hotshot.

“John Nathanʹs biography of this man claims that he wanted to die in an event he led with the “Shield Society.” This manʹs essay Sun and Steel details his obsession with bodybuilding, which figures prominently in a Philip Glass‐scored film directed by Paul Schrader depicting his “life in four chapters.” The pearl‐diver Hatsue appears in The Sound of Waves, a novel by what Japanese author of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, who committed suicide in 1970 after leading a failed coup?”

Five seconds.

Too hard? Try this one.

“This operaʹs title character uses the aria “Es gibt ein Reich” to rebut Truffaldino and Harlequin. It includes an extensive piano part in an infamously difficult coloratura aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin”. In this workʹs prologue, a Composer rages when he learns his opera seria must be performed alongside a burlesque group. The soprano Zerbinetta leads that burlesque group in what opera by Richard Strauss with an “opera‐within‐the‐opera” about the title abandoned Greek princess?”

If you can’t figure that one out in five seconds, then you likely find yourself at the mercy of the whiz kids from the Kickapoo Scholar Bowl team.

Members of the Kickapoo Scholar Bowl team warming up before a state quarterfinal match with Carl Junction

The Kickapoo Scholar Bowl team is the juggernaut you likely haven’t heard of despite sending teams to national championships for many years. This year’s squad actually did something unique even for the successful program.

“We’ve qualified for nationals every year since I took over [four years ago],” coach Angela Odom told OI, “but this year we qualified two teams. Missouri has a rule that NAQT [National Academic Quiz Tournaments, who run the competitions] cannot give you an at-large bid. In other to be able to qualify two teams, they both have to qualify in the same tournament…and the top 15 percent of the competition get to move on to the next level.”

“We took first and second in one the tournaments so we qualified both,” Odom said.

While the overall squad has over 40 students who participate in studying and training for competition, the actual team in each round of the tournaments consists of four players. The teams try to balance themselves so that each of the four members has expertise in particular categories that helps them cover the wide range of potential categories.

The match is as heated as any athletic competition. The two teams will face off for 24 “toss-up” questions that can range in topic from fine arts to history to mathematics to current events. The team that correctly answers the toss-up question will then have three “bonus” questions. Time to answer the question can range from five to ten seconds depending on the complexity of the question.

Just like a sporting event, the coaches can call time outs and substitute players, which brings strategy into the competition as much as knowing the correct answer.

For example, all teams know ahead of the event the number of questions in each category. So if a team knows there are five math questions and five history questions, when the five math questions are finished a coach can call timeout to remove their math expert and replace them with a history buff.

Another strategic method is passing on an answer. If a particularly difficult question comes up, the first team in the bonus could quickly pass to the other team. That second team, which would have had an additional ten seconds to find an answer if the first team tried to find the solution, loses that extra time, making it more difficult to find an answer.

The 24 toss-up questions, the accompanying 72 followup questions…all happen in less than hour. And if the two team somehow tie after all of that? Sudden death questions…the first team to get three right answers wins the match.

Kickapoo Team Captain Taylor Cobb during the first match against Carl Junction

Wednesday night, the Kickapoo team of Taylor Cobb, Mike Owsley, Chase Sponenberg and Anna Weiner won the first two matches of a best-of-three competition against perennial foe Carl Junction to advance to the Elite Eight of the State Tournament in Columbia.

The team had to go to overtime to win the first match after tying at 390 points in the regular session. The team then took the second match 430-290 to advance to the Elite Eight.

The tension in the room can get high and adrenaline can get the better of players. Team captain Taylor Cobb told OI about how he deals with the adrenaline rush to think clearly during the competitions.

“A lot of physical triggers,” he said. “I tap my feet a lot. I shake. It looks weird but it keeps me steady and active. It keeps my brain focused.”

Cobb, a senior who has been competing his entire high school career, says there is really no off-season for the members of the Scholar Bowl team.

“Over the summer I probably studied an hour a day or two,” Cobb said. “My brain is always going and thinking about these things. And then if I find something I don’t know I’ll go google it.”

The Elite Eight for the state tournament takes place on May 4th.