A team of Cooperstown high schoolers traveled to Illinois last week to display its trivia prowess.
Following an October win at the Ithaca Fall Tournament, the quiz bowl team from Cooperstown Middle/High School qualified for the National Academic Quiz Tournament’s Small School National Championship Tournament, happening April 22 through 24 in Rosemont, Ill.
Cooperstown finished ninth among "very small schools" and 26th overall among small schools, according to the NAQT website.
According to a media release, “quiz bowl is a competitive, academic, interscholastic activity for teams … (that) use buzzers to answer questions about science, math, history, literature, mythology, geography, social science, current events, sports and popular culture.”
Cooperstown coach Chalya Pudlewski said club participation is open to students in ninth through 12th grades. The club, she said, has about 25 members, though a five-person team of one senior, one sophomore and three juniors competes in the national event. Theodore Ignatovsky captained the team, the release said, with teammates Frederik Hodgson, William Jones, Srikar Ketharaju and Oliver Wasson. Coach Pudlewski is assisted by John Hodgson.
Interviewed before the trip to Illinois, Pudlewski said this marks her fourth time taking a Cooperstown team to the Small School National Championship, including last year’s virtual event, though Cooperstown has attended five times. In 2021, the release said, the Cooperstown team “made the playoffs and finished in 11th place overall, third for Very Small Schools and first in New York State.”
The SSNCT, the release states, “is the only quiz bowl national championship pitting small schools against each other, (with) one division containing non-selective public schools with 500 or fewer students in their top three grades and another division for other schools with 350 or fewer students in their top three grades.”
“We didn’t get to do as many tournaments this year as normal, because people didn’t get things going out of the pandemic consistently,” Pudlewski said during last week's interview. “There are certain schools that continually have a strong program, year after year, that we kind of know to watch out for and that we would never face during the year because they’re in other states; last year we did it virtually, so we did get to face some of those teams earlier in the year, which was cool, but we didn’t do that this year.
“(The national event) is almost two tournaments in one — one for small schools, then also for very small schools,” Pudlewski continued. “So, even if we get knocked out for small schools, we can still continue to compete for very small, and we’ve consistently been first in New York state, so that’s something I’m hoping to repeat. I’m not sure we’ll repeat that, but it’d be nice.”
Ignatovsky and Ketharaju, the release said, had attended nationals before.
Pudlewski, a ninth-grade teacher at Cooperstown, said club members prepare year-round.
“We practice for about an hour a week and we do game simulations, study lists, study topics and they do a lot on their free time,” she said. “They watch Jeopardy and read the news, go on Wikipedia and they do Protobowl and other quiz sites to practice trivia.”
The students’ participation in the national event, Pudlewski said, was funded by donations.
“It’s a partnership between the school and some partner organizations, so it’s the Cooperstown Foundation for Excellence in Education, the PTA and Friends of Music and Art,” she said. “This is the first year I haven’t had to ask parents for funding, so that’s been really nice. It’s costing about $4,000, so it’s a lot, but we put it together throughout the year. There used to be cash prize tournaments, so we were pretty self-sufficient from that, but those have all gone away and we are pretty reliant on fundraising now.”
Beyond nationals, Pudlewski said, students benefit from quiz bowl participation. Club enrollment, she said, has been increasing.
“I think it’s a big confidence boost,” she said. “The former coach that I co-coached with for a few years would tell the guys and girls who did it, ‘You’ll be the most interesting person in the room, because you can hold a conversation and discuss things intelligently and with background and culture that a lot of kids are missing.’”
For tournament results or more information, visit naqt.com.