On March 18, 2017, Knowledge Bowl teams from all over Washington state converged in the gymnasium of Arlington High School. After opening remarks, tournament coordinators passed out packets of 65 questions. The gym went silent as the written round began. Knowledge Bowlers, in teams of four to six students, from both public and private high schools, bubbled in answers to questions spanning every school subject. From math, to history, to literature, to geography, each question required teams to pool their collective knowledge and work together to complete their Scantron before the hour was up.

This written round was just the beginning of a day full of Knowledge Bowl. After a short break, teams transitioned to the oral rounds, in which questions are read aloud and team members must hit a buzzer, Jeopardy!-style, and deliver a final answer within fifteen seconds.

For Olympia High School’s senior Knowledge Bowl team, “Oly Roman Empire,” this competition was more than just a test of how well they’d been paying attention in class throughout high school. They’ve been playing together as a team for four years, since they were freshmen. Knowledge Bowl State 2017 was not just an opportunity for them to show how much they’d learned in school, but also to show how much they’d learned about playing the game.

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Oly Roman Empire members deliberate a question during the final round of the Puget Sound Regional. Photo Credit: JiYoung Moon.

Knowledge Bowl requires experience and specific strategy, notes OHS Knowledge Bowl co-coach Mike Schaefer. Most of the time, teams “jump the question,” meaning they ring in long before a question is completed, so Knowledge Bowlers need a fluency in the game, and an ability to predict how questions will end. “I’m very proud of the playing style our teams have,” says Mr. Schaefer. “Everyone’s very good at knowing where a question is going, and we play very relaxed. Everybody’s having fun – they’re always joking with each other, not getting stressed out, and this style is what has made us so successful.”

Oly Roman Empire is one of the most decorated teams in OHS Knowledge Bowl history. Their sophomore year, they placed fourth in the state; as juniors, they took second; and this year, their final year of Knowledge Bowl, they took home another second place trophy in their 4A division after a tiebreaker round. They also placed first in the Puget Sound Regional competition in February, as well as in every one of their district meets during the 2016-2017 season.

For the seniors on Oly Roman Empire, the State finals were a bittersweet conclusion to the activity into which they’ve poured so much time (and flashcard-making) throughout the years. The team members have grown so close and have developed a unique style of gameplay together. But as they will mostly be attending different colleges next year, it’s the end of an “Empire.” As their final season of Knowledge Bowl comes to a close, I asked different members of Oly Roman Empire what the activity has meant to them over the years.

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Oly Roman Empire displays their Puget Sound Regional Champion trophy. From left to right: Spencer Johnson, Warren Gu, Marshall Graham, Raven Lirio, McKenzie Murray, and Eric Lloyd. Photo Credit: Mike Schaefer.

Looking back, senior Raven Lirio says she is “most proud of watching our team grow, from our first ever Tacoma invitational as freshmen to where we are today, having competed in state for three years consecutively.” The most memorable part of this year’s state competition, for Lirio, was “getting one final chance to compete alongside some of the closest friends I’ve had. Having been together for the last 4 years, you really get to know people. And I can say that my team is incredibly fun to be around both during and after competitions.”

Spencer Johnson, another senior on Oly Roman Empire, echoes Lirio, saying, “joining Knowledge Bowl was a bright spot freshman year and it has helped me build relationships with people. The competitions and awards are meaningful, but the Thursday practices also gave me something to look forward to each week. And the laughter at Knowledge Bowl practices is unmatched.”

Knowledge Bowlers agree that the activity has added value and connections to their experience at OHS. Says Johnson, “I enjoy the camaraderie of practice, as well as the game itself.” Lirio praises her teammates, and other Knowledge Bowlers she has met at competitions, saying, “Knowledge Bowl has introduced me to some of the most talented and intelligent individuals I’ve met in my high school career.”

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Proud co-coach Mr. Schaefer holds the regional trophy for Oly Roman Empire.

And players are grateful for how their experience has prepared them for college and lifelong learning. “Being in Knowledge Bowl has really taught me to value everything I learn and has inspired a greater passion for discovering more about different subjects,” says Lirio. The game improves teamwork, memory and recall, and the ability to work under pressure, which are applicable to any field of life.

Finally, co-coaches Mike Schaefer and Tim Snodgrass agree that their favorite part of coaching Knowledge Bowl is getting to know and joke with a great group of kids. “And getting big trophies,” adds Mr. Schaefer, underscoring his pride in his team’s achievements with a smile.

Several Knowledge Bowlers also mentioned that one of the most memorable parts of State was the traditional ice cream outing at the end, where discussion about college plans and metaphysics flew over milkshakes and fries. Oly Roman Empire has always been about blending academics with laughter; understanding that genuine connection and lighthearted in-jokes are as vital to a team’s success as knowledge itself.

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