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Quiz Bowl team headed to nationals for second time ever

Memorial Day tournament in Atlanta culmination of 2021-22 season

East Grand Rapids — This Memorial Day weekend, for only the second time in school history, the East Grand Rapids Quiz Bowl team is competing in the National Academic Quiz Tournaments national championships.

The trip is funded in part by an $1,800 grant from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation, plus money from Merrell, the district’s Academic Boosters, the PTO and numerous students, staff, community members and the families of the team members.

For coach and mathematics teacher Brian VanderBee and team members Cole Ruehle, Hania Timek, Addison Lemmonds and George Samra, it promises to be the trip of a lifetime. And the squad is leaving nothing to chance as they get ready to compete for a national title.

On a rainy Wednesday a week prior to their departure, nine of the team members gathered in VanderBee’s second-floor classroom at the high school for a final practice.

As they got their buzzers set up, VanderBee announced the first category of questions he’d be reading from: literature. 

Groans ensued, VanderBee smiled and off they went, with VanderBee asking questions and presenting clues and the students buzzing in when they knew the answer (or thought they did). 

After literature came other topics and categories: math, science, history, geography and more — a plethora of questions from a variety of disciplines spanning hundreds of years over the course of an hour in a final push to prepare for the national tournament.

One final practice before heading to nationals

‘The Ability to Trust in Yourself’

VanderBee joined the East Grand Rapids faculty in 2002 and then reestablished the Quiz Bowl team at the high school for the 2013-2014 school year. A former Quiz Bowler at Stevensville Lakeshore High School, he said he loves what the sport brings to the high school experience.

“I have noticed members of the Quiz Bowl team increase their love of learning,” he said. “And the friendships that they have discovered through this intellectual pursuit have broken social barriers, and they have become stronger because of it. They have used this experience to share their love of learning with others as well.”

Senior George Samra agreed. He’s in his fourth year on the team and said that while he loves the questions and the trivia, “more than that, it’s been a great way to meet people and make friends.”

But, he added, there’s nothing like being able to compete.

“I like the events,” he admitted. “I like the pressure and also the feeling that it matters more than one practice does.”

And, he said, he believes that what Quiz Bowl competitions have given him will benefit him in the future too.

“I’m going to be attending Purdue University in the fall, studying data science,” he said. “I think that the quick thinking of Quiz Bowl and the ability to trust in yourself to answer a question, even if you’re not 100 percent confident, will be super-helpful when facing situations that may not have a definite answer.”

A Long Season of Competition

Junior teammate Hania Timek is in her third year on the team and, like George, she said the camaraderie has been as great as the competition, though she does love to compete.

“I love the fun we have at practices, and how much we support each other,” she said. “I really like how much we get along on the team, and it’s a very uplifting atmosphere for everyone, regardless of skill. This experience has taught me a lot about teamwork, hard work and leadership.”

The Memorial Day competition, to be held May 27-29 in Atlanta, will be the culmination of many months of practice and competitions for the East team.

‘This experience has taught me a lot about teamwork, hard work and leadership.’

– junior Hania Timek

Formal practices began already last fall and then the team competed in two larger tournaments, one in October and the other in November. League play took place in February and March of 2022, and then the state championship tournament was held in April.

In Quiz Bowl, four students from one school compete against four from another school in a Jeopardy-like competition. 

“Most events have two, ten-minute halves to answer as many questions as you can,” VanderBee said. “If you are the first to buzz in, and you are correct, your team then gets to confer on three bonus questions. If you are incorrect, the other team gets their chance at an answer as well as the bonuses. So, you need to balance confidence, knowledge and caution.”

His players, he added, have all three traits in abundance, but they know the challenges nationals will present.

“I’m thrilled that we qualified,” Hania said. “I think nationals will be fun and humbling. We’ll be going up against some incredible teams, and I’m sure we’ll have a terrific time.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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