Quiz Bowl Part I

My colleague at Overlake, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, runs highly successful Quiz Bowl clubs for both middle and upper schoolers. I thought AISL librarians might be interested to hear more details, so Kelly graciously agreed to share her knowledge and expertise. Many thanks to her for taking the time, and for giving thoughtful and detailed answers in our interview. As the interview ran long, this is part one; part two will post on 2/21.

Background: Early radio game shows inspired a plethora of quiz-bowl type competitions in the US and around the world. While different iterations are easy to find, Quiz Bowl in the US usually involves four-person teams answering questions in mostly academic fields, in levels ranging from elementary through graduate school. Questions come in two different types, toss-up and bonus, and students use a buzzer system to claim a question. If students answer early in the question, with less information, they can earn additional points. Coordinators can purchase Quiz Bowl materials, including questions, from sources like NAQT (National Academic Quiz Tournaments, founded in 1996). Students ready to move beyond their school competitions can enter/qualify for local or national competitions and weekend tournaments, including online and in-person tournaments.

Rebecca: How did you get started in Quiz Bowl, and why?

Kelly: I participated in Knowledge Bowl in high school. Although my team was really strong, I wasn’t the best, but I still had fun. In my second year at Overlake a new student wanted to start a Quiz Bowl Team but there wasn’t a faculty advisor. When I saw that, I jumped all over it. I felt like it would be fun with my previous experience, and I was also uniquely qualified to find them all sorts of random sources of information if they wanted to study.

Rebecca: What is your role in Overlake’s Quiz Bowl teams, and what is your time commitment?

Kelly: I’m the primary faculty advisor for both the Upper and Middle school Teams. Upper School clubs meet every other week for an hour and Middle School clubs meet every week for an hour. We do about 5-7 tournaments a year for each team, and those are a full day on Saturday. Then, when and if we make the National Tournament, I travel to Chicago for three days in the spring with each team.

Rebecca: When do teams meet, and what happens at Quiz Bowl club meetings?

Kelly: Competing Academic Teams meet at various times. Quiz Bowl meets during our usual club blocks during the school day, but we also have after school practice on Fridays. During our meetings we primarily do practice questions and play as if it were a tournament. I will stop and offer advice and coach the kids on when and how to buzz, and when information is something that comes up frequently. I know that some teams do a lot of group studying, but I feel like doing questions is more fun and the students still retain a lot of the knowledge.

Rebecca: What’s the process for entering tournaments, and how do you choose which tournaments to enter?

Kelly: Tournaments are challenging. We started the team in 2019/2020 and Covid severely affected our ability to attend in-person tournaments (and there weren’t any in-person tournaments), but it also kick-started the idea of online tournaments. Knowledge Bowl is more prevalent in this area, so there isn’t a huge pool of other local teams to compete with in Quiz Bowl style. The University of Washington Quiz Bowl team puts on some tournaments, but that is all dependent on the club leadership, and some years they don’t do them. Basically, we look for local tournaments (on the NAQT website) and we look for online tournaments we are allowed to join. If it works with the students’ schedules, we sign up. You have to qualify for the national tournament by finishing in the top 10-15% of regular tournaments. 

Rebecca: What’s it like to attend a travel tournament?

Kelly: Traveling to tournaments is interesting because it is much more intense than rolling out of bed in your pajamas to compete, or just driving down to the UW. It’s especially true for this group of kids, who has mostly attended online tournaments. Somehow, the kids get much more psyched out by the competition, and hearing side chats or other teams studying. But it is super fun to be able to bond as a team, and eat meals and do things besides answer random questions together.

Rebecca: What are some challenges you face in running quiz bowl teams?

Kelly: The biggest challenge is time. The MS team meets during club time, and that doesn’t get interrupted that often, but the US team’s club meeting time frequently gets interrupted by other events, and many of the kids are on multiple clubs and try to split their time among them. In order for us to be really top notch, we’d have to carve out a lot more practice time. But the students are already so over-committed, there isn’t any other time to carve out. We did finally find a good after school time: Fridays, and this has worked well this year.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.