This weekend, George Mason High School’s scholastic bowl team will compete against the top single-A schools in the state in the hopes of securing its fourth-straight Virginia High School League state championship. Captain Liam O’Connell is confident in his team’s abilities going into the state meet, supported by this season’s accomplishments.
The Mason scholastic bowl team has thus far gone undefeated in Virginia High School League competition, won the Bull Run District championship last month by impressive margins, and brought home the Region B trophy earlier this month despite having to compete with a split roster.
O’Connell was a member of last year’s team who, after graduating several successful seniors the season before, were left with only players who had never before competed. Still, the team cruised through an undefeated postseason and won the state championship. With some players returning this season, expectations were high. But in the knowledge-based activity there is room for improvement, and team coach Jamie Scharff says his team has become stronger as the season has progressed.
“We’ve continued improving as the year has gone on, which you have to do,” Scharff said. “If you start off the year and you’re pretty strong and you stay there, other teams are always learning more. I think our team feels confident that we’ll do well because we’re continuing to get better.”
Scoring has become more balanced amongst his players, Scharff says; players are answering questions they wouldn’t have been able to earlier in the season, and they are showing a depth of knowledge that reflects the time spent hearing questions in regular quiz bowl practice.
They also seek out competitive teams from “powerhouse schools” they don’t face in their single-A competition by participating in tournaments outside of their VHSL schedule.
“They want to test themselves against the strongest fields that they can, and that’s the way they do it,” Scharff said.
Through such tournaments, the team secured two impressive second-place finishes and earned a spot in the PACE National Scholastics Championship this June, a 64-team meet that will see the top teams in the nation compete at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The team also competes in the long-running “It’s Academic” quiz show, which resulted in a unique challenge during the Region B tournament. The team made it into the playoff rounds of “It’s Academic” by winning a match in the fall, but taping, Scharff soon realized, would coincide with his team’s attempt to win its 10th Region B title. The production schedule could not be adjusted, and so the team had to divide its seven core players.
“We knew if we were going to do both, we would have to split our team up,” Scharff said.
O’Connell, fellow seniors Crystal Luo and Andrew Rochman, and junior Elinore McLain were sent to take on the best scholastic bowl teams in the region, and juniors Matt Earman and Rohan Rana, and sophomore Jarman Taylor went to the NBC4 studio to appear on “It’s Academic.”
The two differ in their format and their questions. Scharff says that his players are more invested in the scholastic bowl competition than “It’s Academic,” in part because they compete often through the VHSL season and because they are part of an accomplished history in that type of competition.
It may seem like an intimidating legacy to be a part of, but Scharff says all students are invited to join the group, or simply stop by and play if they enjoy it.
Players get better simply by playing the game, whether it’s answering a few practice questions during Mustang Block or attending regular afterschool practices.
“What we do to improve is play quiz bowl,” O’Connell said. “Pretty much every day.”