The Ridgefield High School Knowledge Bowl team took home hardware from the state tournament this month.
After facing off against two 4A schools in the final round, the team of four students took home first place in the 2A division and third place in the state overall.
“Just being in the top three at state is a big deal for us,” Ridgefield Knowledge Bowl coach David Jacobson said. “I’m really proud of these kids.”
Knowledge Bowl is a fast-paced trivia competition in which students compete against each other by answering questions across just about every academic subject. According to Jacobson, each member of the Ridgefield team specializes in a different subject, allowing the team to be well-versed for any question that comes their way. Questions asked in the state tournament included “Iphigenia was the daughter of what leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War” (Agamemnon) and “He wrote ‘System of Nature’ in 1735 which gave precise names to some twelve thousand living things,” (Carl Linnaeus).
Placing as well as they did in the state tournament, the Spudder Knowledge Bowl team was invited to the national tournament in May. In a normal year, going to the national tournament would require the school to pay for travel to Georgia and lodging while the team was there. However, because the tournament is taking place entirely online and the cost is low, the Spuds will get to show their smarts on the national stage.
“They only make the offer to the top three teams in any of the state tournaments,” Jacobson said. “These kids have never seen anything like nationals. It’s a different level.”
Jacobson teaches Washington state history and world geography at View Ridge Middle School. He began coaching the Knowledge Bowl team last year following the death of long-time Ridgefield knowledge bowl fixture Ken Bisbee. With Bisbee’s wife Nancy Bisbee helping out last year, Jacobson said the Spudders qualified for the state tournament in 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament in Yakima was canceled as digital solutions were not yet in place. This year, practices, competitions and tournaments took place entirely on Zoom. To compete, members of each team would be on a Zoom with the opposing team and the host asking the questions. Teams would “buzz in” and unmute to answer questions. According to Jacobson, outside of Zoom, team members communicated using other software to discuss questions and strategies.
“(Zoom) was pretty good for what it was and what it accomplished,” Jacobson said. “We’re eager to get back in person, though.”
To place in the 2021 state tournament, the team needed to do well at the regional tournament, and the Spudders had the highest score overall. After regionals, the team had to take a “very difficult” multiple choice test as a team to determine seating in the state tournament. After that, three teams competed in each round, with the highest moving on to the next round. Four hours later, the Spudders were up against two 4A schools in the final round.
“There were two schools with 1,000-plus students and little old Ridgefiled up there,” Jacobson said. “It was really cool.”
According to Jacobson, being a strong Knowledge Bowl team requires more than just knowing the answer, but incredible speed at “ringing in.” In training, the team would look at patterns in questions that would be asked in a tournament setting. For example, Jacobson said if a question starts with “this Polish astronomer,” the team can just ring in because “Copernicus is the only Polish astronomer they’re going to ask about.”
As for why he thinks Knowledge Bowl is important, Jacobson said it “promotes quick thinking, general knowledge and curiosity about the world” as well as giving hard-studying kids a reward for their time.
“It’s a really great experience for kids and their development,” Jacobson said. “Knowledge Bowl was one of the coolest things I did in high school … When you compete against the smartest kids in the world and do pretty well, it feels pretty good.”