The thrill of competing, the excitement of being with friends, the desire to master random sets of facts – all of these things were part of the rationale that convinced a bunch of middle school students to join the first-ever TIS Middle School Knowledge Bowl in fall 2014.
Little did any of them know or even dare to dream, but just a few months later, in April 2015, they would be returning to Tashkent the proud champions of the 2014-2015 Middle School CEESA Knowledge Bowl in Moscow, Russia.
The team of eight 6th graders and their coaches, Doug DeWitt and Seth Hendrickson, left for Moscow on Thursday, April 23 and returned early Monday, April 27. Between those two dates, something incredible happened.
Before leaving, both Doug and Seth were not sure what chances their three teams would have against the stiff line up of other more seasoned middle school knowledge bowl teams. But winning wasn’t the goal.
“The reason we offer this activity is so kids can gain confidence in a non-sport situation so they can compete and do well in something that has nothing to do with a ball or running,” said Doug before the tournament.
The goal this year: go out there and have some fun. But win?
“Mr. H told me we’re probably not going to win the tournament,” said Rocco D.
For some of the students, this was their first time traveling outside the country without their parents; the first time they were in a non-sport competitive activity.
Knowledge Bowl “pulls kids out of their shyness,” explained Doug before the trip. “Some people are outgoing and some people are not. This activity really brings those non-outgoing kids out.”
Seth agreed, adding that this group of kids really grew during the academic year.
“It’s fun to work with these kids,” he said. “Knowledge Bowl is a different way to show your skills.”
And show them they did.
The event began on Friday with several tests for the teams to determine seating in the 16-team tournament. TIS brought three teams, A, B and C. None of them were experienced beyond the walls of TIS; all of them were nervous.
On Saturday the competitions began and things did not look good for the A team. In this Round Robin, double elimination tournament, a quick loss for the A team put them at a sudden disadvantage and earned them a solid spot in the losers bracket. The B and C teams fared a bit better.
“The kids were nervous,” Doug explained. Even in the early testing period, they experienced shaking hands and sick stomachs.
But at some point things changed. With nothing left to lose, the A team went about its business of answering questions and winning games.
“As soon as they won that first game, I saw them exhale and think ‘OK, we need to win some games,’” said Seth.
In the end, the A team needed to win six straight games to get into the final round, including two games against the undefeated champions.
And before they knew it, the A team was suddenly in the A league.
“All of a sudden I think it hit them that they were actually playing for first place and this was in front of everyone,” Doug said. “I could tell they were nervous but there was nothing they could do about it.”
The final game went back and forth, question to question, until finally the two teams were tied. One last question, and Jung-Ki from TIS buzzed in first.
“At the last question, I was so scared when I answered,” said Jung-Ki. “And then the judge said ‘That’s correct,’ and I was so excited!”
“It got to the point where I was more nervous than they were,” said Seth about watching the final round. “I was sweating. When Jung-Ki got that last question right, I may have done a few fist pumps. Quietly.”
For a group of scrappy middle schoolers who had never competed in a Knowledge Bowl before, who started their time in this after-school activity nervous, scared and unsure of themselves, this team of students truly showed their potential, and shocked a school. They even shocked themselves.
“I thought we would get eliminated,” said Rocco D. about his feelings before the tournament.
“I thought we would lose but have fun,” concurred Alex C.
“We never thought we would actually win,” added Jung-Ki.
But what about now?
“I’m just so happy for them [A team] because we’re all one team,” said Alina S. “We were just going there for fun but then we actually won.”
“This really helped our self esteem,” added Matthew B.
Their coaches couldn’t be more proud, of all of them.
“Each team got better as the tournament went on,” said Seth. “I was really proud of all the kids. It was really fun watching them.”
For Seth and Doug, this particular Knowledge Bowl has another special meaning. When Seth was in middle school and high school as an international-school student, Doug was his Knowledge Bowl coach.
While the two of them never brought home a trophy together as coach and student, they made up for it this year as colleagues.
“Doug and I were really excited,” Seth said. “The kids were great. They had great sportsmanship and a great sense of humor. They were really exemplary for our school. I’m proud of them.”
The Winning Question
How many atoms are in nine molecules of sodium chloride?
Jung Ki L
Woo Hyuk (Andy) S