Area Scholar’s Bowl teams make the grade

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 21, 2005

REGION – “We need to do this more often,” says Southern Academy student Lennon Bonds, having just concluded an intense session of practice Thursday. But unlike what most parents of teenagers might think, Bonds isn’t angling to practice more basketball or PlayStation. He’s looking to make himself smarter.

Bonds is a member of the Southern Academy Scholar’s Bowl team. Scholar’s Bowl is part of a growing trend of academic competition, in which students from two different schools square off using Jeopardy-style buzzers to see who can answer the most questions.

“It’s great to get them exposed to lots of different information,” says Southern Academy science teacher and Scholar’s Bowl coach Cynthia McGill. “They need the exposure to more than just the everyday stuff.”

To succeed in Scholar’s Bowl, knowledge of far more than “everyday stuff” is needed. During their Thursday practice, Academy students answered questions on topics ranging from the musical West Side Story to secondary algebra to the heavy metal band Disturbed. “It’s great learning about just random stuff,” says team member Jasmina Hira. Bonds adds with a laugh, “It’s nice to be able to use this stuff in conversation…makes you sound real intelligent.”

Although lighthearted about the educational aspect of Scholar’s Bowl, Bonds did say that it added some inspiration to watch the History Channel. It’s little things like that that make Scholar’s Bowl an important extracurricular activity, says Col. Curtis Meisenheimer, coach of Marion Military Institute’s J.C. College Bowl team. “One thing we have to address when starting an extracurricular program is, ‘What’s our purpose?’ And College Bowl is a great way to support our academics. We tell our team, the best way to do well in the game is to do well in your classes.”

Judging by some of MMI’s results, their team is doing quite nicely in their classes. Last year the Cadets won a sectional tourney in Mississippi and qualified for the national J.C. finals in St. Louis. “That’s definitely a goal we have for this year as well,” says Meisenheimer, although losing almost all of last year’s team to graduation will hurt.

The goals are a little more modest at Southern Academy, which is preparing for their AISA district competition at Pickens Academy in March, where they will compete against local rivals like Sumter Academy and West Alabama Prep. The winner will advance to the state finals. Although her team members are unquestionably bright, McGill admits that “we really need to practice.”

Even if their goals on the tourney scoresheets aren’t quite met, both coaches acknowledge that the fun of competition is always worth the effort. “It’s always nice getting off-campus, meeting other people,” says Meisenheimer. “We definitely try to have a good time with it.”

Just a couple of minutes with the Southern Academy team shows that things are hardly all business with them, either. Jokes are cracked about the boys-against-girls practice format, the announcement of the “Trojan” Internet virus over the intercom, and Bonds’ unique study habits. “Seriously, most of my answers come from videogames,” he says, almost seriously. “We do let them have some fun with it,” says McGill.

The fun of academic competition isn’t restricted to Scholar’s Bowl teams, however. While Demopolis High does not field a Bowl team, students are encouraged to compete in any number of academic competitions, some of which include math competition and a regional Technical Olympics for students in technical programs. A highlight is the Computing Olympiad, a competition organized by the University of Alabama for budding computer programmers and web designers in which students can win scholarships to the University of Alabama. The DHS Computer Club will be sending teams to competitions at both Tuscaloosa and Alabama State University in February.

The thrill of competition, whether across a buzzer system or a computer cable, is always a driving force for academic competitors. “They take a lot of pride in Scholar’s Bowl,” says McGill. “My team has several football players and often the same guys they see on the other side of the line on the football field are the same guys they see at district competition. It’s competitive. They want to show that they can be jocks and be smart at the same time.”