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Gauging George Washington High's quizzical success

Lawrence Pierce
The George Washington Quiz Bowl team is a contender this year for top honors.
Lawrence Pierce Ryan Humphrey is team captain of GW's Quiz Bowl squad.
Lawrence Pierce Being fast off the buzzer is essential to Quiz Bowl success.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "This character is known by a number of names including Hawkeye and The Deerslayer. For 10 points name this adopted member of the Delaware tribe who appears in five volumes of the Leatherstocking tales."

"Natty Bumpo."

"Yeah..."

"In one of this man's plays a character asks, "What are we doing here? That is the question" and answers it with the play's title."

"Beckett."

"Yeah: What are we doing? Waiting for Godot."

It was just another day in the practice trenches for the George Washington High School Quiz Bowl team, which has been having itself a rather good year.

The team has been ranked in the top 40 among more than 1,500 teams in a set of international quiz bowl rankings that also includes teams from Canada, China and Singapore.

The seven-member GW team is hoping for even better results as the year unfolds.

"We would like to be at least top 16 at Nationals and there are two national tournaments and we would like to get to that level in both," said team captain Ryan Humphrey, taking a break from a team practice one recent day at the school.

"No team from West Virginia has ever made the playoffs, which is top 64. So we would like to move beyond that and move into national caliber finishes."

"And represent West Virginia," added team president Shani Waris.

"Yeah, and represent West Virginia the best we can," Humphrey said. "That's why we've been making a point to go out of state and try to get as much diversity of competition as possible and compare ourselves the best we can with the nation's best."

What makes a good Quiz Bowl player?

"You're either typically a generalist or a specialist," Humphrey said. "You either know one topic extremely well or you do your best to cover the widest range of topics. So, if that's having one person that really knows science or five people that know a little bit about everything it can go either way. Our team's pretty equally balanced. We all pretty much can answer anything in any category."

Other members of the team include Drew Gupta, Arka Gupta, Jess McDaniel, Ahmed Zanabli and Sam McClung, who doubles as captain of the History Bowl team, another part of Quiz Bowl.

How do you grow a good Quiz Bowl player?

"A lot of the basics you get from your classes," Humphrey said, especially AP or Advance Placement classes. "AP courses do a lot of good toward studying. But the biggest thing is just essentially converting AP knowledge to Quiz Bowl format and thinking. You can take a large amount of AP courses and not be great at Quiz Bowl or you can take a few and be very impressive."

"On top of that it's not just the more advanced courses. Sometimes it's like the obscure things you learn while watching TV," Waris said.

"You start thinking in quiz bowl terms a little bit when you do it so often. You learn a lot of stuff just in school just overall -- it's not necessarily the most advanced courses, but generally those are the ones that give you the deepest knowledge."

Sticking with it pays off, added Waris. "Freshman year I went to my first tournament and we didn't win a single game and we were on a B team. And that's turned into going to these tournaments senior year and feeling really accomplished.

"Our point totals are probably double what they were last year."

"We've definitely improved since last year," Humphrey said.

Inside the state, the team's biggest competition is Bridgeport High School.

"We've been lucky enough -- we haven't lost a match to a West Virginia team this year," Humphrey said.

Practice, practice and more practice -- buzzers at the ready -- helps, too, of course,

"We do these practices every week as well. They help. You stay on pace and keep fast on the buzzer because that matters a lot when you play a good team," Waris said.

School support is the best it has ever been, they both agreed.

"One thing that's been definitive this year, I think, is support by from the administration. Freshman year and sophomore year I didn't feel that really. Ever since last year, I've felt that that they've actually started supporting quiz bowl as a team, as a whole."

"And we absolutely appreciate it. The school's been so wonderfully behind our team this year. It's been awesome," Humphrey said.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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