It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since we all gathered in Chicago, IL to watch 40 teams compete for the national championship, but the 52nd National Finals begin one week from today.
This will be my 20th National Finals as a participant. I quizzed 1995-1997 and 1999-2000 and officiated at all others, having quizmastered every year since 2005. A lot has changed about quiz since my first year. The questions are much more consistent from year to year, you only need 5 for a quiz out, there’s 40 teams, etc. It’s hard to compare the level of competition from year to year, but the one constant is the amazing amount of work that people are willing to put into memorizing God’s word. Thousands of hours of studying, listening to people quoting, reading questions, riding in vans to tournaments, etc, will finally culminate in a week-long assault by some of the hardest questions they’ll hear all year. There’s few things as awesome as the feeling of nailing a 30-pointer that you’ve been anticipating all year. What’s amazing is that for the best quizzers, for every question that DOES come up, there are probably 10 questions that didn’t come up, but they still know. Even having been a participant many years ago, I’m still in awe of the achievements of these quizzers. It really does reap dividends years down the road. As often as it’s been said, the trophies will eventually gather dust, but the verses that you learn will never leave you.
One thing that’s brand new for me this year is the material. Thessalonians was last done in 1982, Timothy and Titus in 1968, and John’s epistles have never been done. In past years, sometimes I can sort of put my brain on auto-pilot listening to a long answer, because I kind of already know it. This whole year has been a bit challenging to me as a quizmaster.
Now, onto a bit of a preview of the week, and maybe some predictions. Unlike previous years, none of the team quizzing will take place on Sunday (well, except for the fact that every room will be occupied with teams doing some last-minute practice). I think this is a good thing for two reasons. First, this gives all teams a slight breather. Given that we’ll be on East Coast time, the three-hour difference can be brutal for a West Coat team. (Bothell’s A-team has actually already arrived). Second, not doing preliminary rounds on Sunday leads to doing all of them on Monday, rather than splitting up Monday into half prelim matches and half regular matches. Finding out you’ve made the challenger division can be very hard on a team, so this at least gives them more than the time of lunch to compose themselves and plan to make the best of it.
The Senior Shoot-out can be a bit of a melee, but it’s always a fun way to start off the week. The quoting bee comes next. I believe this is the first time it’s taken place before the quizzing. Abby Rogers always excels at this event. I’d list her as the odds-on favorite although with it happening earlier in the week, before quizzers have turned off their brains, this might last quite a while. I’ve provided the randomized verses for the quoting bee for the last few years and this year was asked to give two separate randomizations in the event that it runs really long.
Picking who will make champ and who will make challenger is not possible at this point since the brackets have not been released. This year is the first year with so many “wild card” teams that the northeast is pretty certain to have good representation. I’ve been advocating for a system similar to what we have for quite a while. Some regions have an abundance of teams, while others can barely fill out the four spots they get. I was at the Northeast regionals this year and I can really say there were plenty of teams beyond fourth place that were national quality. So it’s not terribly surprising that they received 6 of the 8 wild card spots.
I only made it to one tournament outside of the Northeast this year, so I haven’t had a chance to see all the heavy-hitters this season. Nonetheless, I will predict that Bothell and Muskogee will make the Final Four. The last two spots are a little more uncertain for me. Last year’s Final Four victors, James River, stand a chance. They lost three quizzers to graduation, but gained Daniel and Hannah Quick and have been performing well throughout the year. I expect good things out of Spring, TX, too. One new team to watch out for is Deposit, NY. This is coached by a former top quizzer from 1987, and they’ve competed in the NE region for years as a non-AG team, and made the switch this last year. They are very talented and also very young. Beyond this, there are lots of teams that could surprise you. It all boils down to how the questions turn out in each match. One bad hit on a 30 can cost a team a spot in the Final Four, and I’ve seen that happen to the best of teams. The key is to consistently win the matches that you are “supposed” to win. I’m going to predict that most teams are going to lose to Bothell and Muskogee in the regular rounds. The key is to not turn around from a loss to the two best teams and then lose to a team you really should beat with a triple backward quiz-out.
As for the Final Four, it’s anyone’s bet. I’ve openly admitted that I’m not a fan of the format, but that’s the way it is, at least for this year. We saw last year that teams can make unexpected comebacks in these games. James River, who finished fourth place, started out losing both of their matches, then rallying at the end to win. I guess what we’ve learned the last four years is that ANYONE can win these games, regardless of where they finished in the round robin.
With regards to top quizzer, as in previous years, Abby appears to be unchallenged here. She has had extraordinary intuition since she arrived on the scene and will probably know more concordance than anyone else. That’s no excuse for others to not challenge her, though. Just know that it’s a huge uphill battle!
The individual competition will probably, once again, have Abby in the final round. Without Daniel Wagner to fight her for it, I don’t know who else to pick to win it, but again, this all boils down to the questions.
After the banquet comes my favorite time of the week: The Match of Death. This was originally started in 2010 when the East-West quiz was cancelled, much to the dismay of the quizzers. In response, we had one after the banquet and so many people fit into a tiny room to watch it that the East-West was back the next year. We did two regular sets and one with extremely hard questions, many of which were barely possible in 30 seconds. The next year, we ramped it up a bit adding some questions that took longer than 30 seconds, including all the references for Jesus (gotten by Abby). Every year we’ve tried to add something new to the match: history questions, jeopardy questions, parody questions, etc. Nationals can be such a stressful experience for the quizzers, that I feel like they need a chance to unwind and have some real fun (and maybe show off a bit). We give out cash prizes to all participants both for placement and for answering particular questions. It makes me so happy each year to see basically everyone change out of the stuffy banquet clothes into something more comfortable to watch a fitting end to the season. I have yet to start writing this year’s set, but I’ve been jotting down ideas all year long. There will be funny statement and questions, lots of parodies of Kent Kloefkorn’s questions, and plenty of just plain hard-to-answer questions.
I wish the best to all the teams competing at nationals. You’ve all done amazing work throughout the year and I hope it pays off for you.