He’s the all-time leading scorer in Cloverleaf High School Quiz Bowl history, as well as the Summit County Academic Challenge League’s only two-time Top Gun Tournament winner, but senior Captain Brooks Powalie said those individual milestones aren’t the highlights of his Cloverleaf career.
“The titles are nice, but it’s definitely more the experiences with the team. I value our 15th-place finish as a B Team freshman year at SSNCT (Small School National Championship Tournament) more than either of those two,” Powalie said.
The Cloverleaf “Nerd Herd” gets its next shot on the national stage April 24-25 when the team competes in the 2021 National Academic Quiz Tournament’s SSNCT -- going head to head against some of the best Quiz Bowl teams in the country. Teams that advance though the preliminary rounds on day one earn the chance to compete in the tournament playoffs on day two. This is the fifth year in a row Cloverleaf has qualified for the Small School National Championship. In 2018, the Cloverleaf A team placed 10th in the nation while the B team, which all of this year’s seniors were members of as underclassmen, placed 15th in the nation.
The tournament typically takes place in Chicago, but due to COVID-19, it will be held remotely -- like all Cloverleaf’s Quiz Bowl matches since the start of the pandemic. The team has also qualified for NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament May 29-30 (open to schools of all sizes), but due to logistical challenges, the field has been limited, and Cloverleaf is on a waiting list to compete.
The Colts are led by seniors Joseph Charek, Abby Washinger, Emily Winnicki, and Powalie. The team heads into nationals with a 2020-21 regular-season record of 58-24 that includes a Summit County League fall regular season championship, the Portage Trail Conference regular season title, and the Portage Trail Conference Tournament championship. Seniors Charek, Washinger, and Powalie also were victorious in two appearances on the WEWS-TV 5 television show “Academic Challenge,” never losing a televised match. The team is coached by high school teachers Cameron Flint and Jenny Pertee. Cloverleaf High School Class of 2011 grad and Quiz Bowl team alumna Kellianne Rinearson is also a member of the coaching staff.
In the annual Top Gun Tournament -- hosted by the Summit County Academic Challenge League -- the best players from area teams face-off in a 100-question match. Each is allowed a maximum of three incorrect answers (or “negs”) before they get the boot.
“This year I negged twice in the first either 10 or 15 questions,” Powalie said. “The thing about Top Gun is a lot of the kids know the answers to those questions at exactly the same time, so it’s about buzzing aggressively and trying to get that clue that a lot of people know first and just beating them in that buzzer race.”
Inevitably, there are good players who get eliminated early.
“Which, to be honest, that’s the other way it could have gone this year for me,” he said. “Either get knocked out in the first 15 or win it all!”
Like athletes, Quiz Bowl players devote a lot of time to practice -- including time spent this year adapting to remote competition using a special mobile phone app. Students also attend summer camps and devote personal study time to Quiz Bowl -- in addition meeting the rigors of their high school courses, which typically include a heavy diet of Advanced Placement classes and other high-level coursework. Players often specialize in a particular field -- literature, history, science, or sports, etc. -- but the most important quality in any player is a thirst for learning for the sake of learning, regardless of subject matter, said Powalie.
“No. 1 is definitely being curious and inquisitive. Just wanting to explore the world around them and take in anything they see around them. Any type of knowledge, really,” he said.
Powalie is still deciding where he will continue his education after high school, but he knows his intended major -- astrophysics -- and he knows Quiz Bowl will be part of his college experience. Until then, his focus is on the Colts reaching the playoffs at nationals.
“That honor upon Cloverleaf … our Quiz Bowl program and everything Abby, Emily, Joe and Mr. Flint have put in … It would be that magnum opus for all of us,” he said.
Q&A with CHS senior and Quiz Bowl Captain Brooks Powalie
CLS: What do you enjoy most about Quiz Bowl?
Brooks: “It’s that drive toward learning new knowledge. The appreciation for everything that’s going on in the world around us.”CLS: What’s the hardest thing about QB?
Brooks: "Building a team and forming that kind of chemistry between people. Often in Quiz Bowl you have a person or two who pick up, say, literature. You’ve got your history nerd. Your science nerd. Somebody has to pick up sports.”CLS: What’s the captain’s role?
Brooks: "You take people's strengths and then on bonuses apply that. If there are several different answers coming, you defer to the person you know is the most knowledgeable in that subject. It’s not this whole ‘leader of men’ mentality!”CLS: What makes Cloverleaf’s program so successful?
Brooks: “It’s definitely got to start with just how great our advisers and coaches are. How good Ms. Pertee is at bringing kids in and just getting them that initial interest. And then into high school Mr. Flint definitely pushes the team to play competitively. Mr. Flint really got me in particular into Eastern European history. So like pushing into those niche topics, gaining ground there. Mr. Flint is definitely incredible at that.”CLS: What would you say to middle school or upper elementary school students to get them interested in QB?
Brooks: “If they enjoy learning for the sake of learning, Quiz Bowl is exactly that. It’s a way to take that learning further outside the topics in the classroom. It doesn’t have to be about any of the conventional topics in school, even. Art is definitely a bigger part in Quiz Bowl than it is for the most part in our curriculum. A kid can easily get into Quiz Bowl and get started with knowledge on like DC or Marvel, even. It’s a great base to begin.”CLS: How does QB have a positive impact on your high school student career or on your future college or working career?
Brooks: "I think the exploration of different Quiz Bowl topics definitely made it easier for me to choose my major going into college because I dove deeper into physics and astrophysics and decided oh, yeah, this is definitely for me. That’s definitely one big impact on the academia side of it. I don’t know that the kind of collaboration and chemistry and teambuilding in Quiz Bowl is present that much in other areas of the curricular process of secondary school.”CLS: If you were building a prototype QB player from scratch, what are the top skills or attributes they would have to have?
Brooks: “No. 1 is definitely being curious and inquisitive. Just wanting to explore the world around them and take in anything they see around them. Any type of knowledge, really. I guess that’s a big misconception in secondary school is that you can only be one kind of academically smart and that’s not the case. If you’re into just any kind of learning ... If you love bicycling, maybe you go into the cardiology of bicycling. That’s another type of learning I think can be applied to Quiz Bowl better than your typical secondary school classroom.”CLS: Another benefit of QB is getting over the fear of giving the wrong answer. That can be an important life skill.
Brooks: "Absolutely! I’ve been given the ‘Neg Necklace’ since sophomore year because I am incredibly good at buzzing in and answering questions incorrectly! But you can’t succeed if you don’t take those risks. That’s another part of getting into Quiz Bowl -- learning that balance of when to buzz in and when to try for a correct answer vs. negging six times in a match -- which I have definitely done before!”CLS: The Top Gun Tournament is three strikes and you’re out. This year, you got to two strikes pretty quickly. Was it your strategy to go all out at the beginning and then switch to a more conservative approach?
Brooks: "This year I negged twice in the first either 10 or 15 questions. The thing about Top Gun is a lot of the kids know the answers to those questions at exactly the same time, so it’s about buzzing aggressively and trying to get that clue that a lot of people know first and just beating them in that buzzer race. So it’s all about playing aggressively.”CLS: It sounds like risk management does factor in. Inevitably, there will be a great player who gets bitten by being too aggressive and gets ousted from the competition early.
Brooks: "Which, to be honest, that’s the other way it could have gone this year for me. Either get knocked out in the first 15 or win it all!
CLS: Competitions are being held remotely. Can you talk a little bit about how players have adapted?
Brooks: "It changes the strategy on how to buzz. Really, it drives the questions further forward, in that you need to buzz earlier to be able to still get into Powers (bonus questions) and to beat other people to the buzzer because often it will be another word or two before the readers acknowledge the person buzzing. Having good internet is important, too.
“It almost feels easier to buzz this year than it does with a handheld buzzer. All you have to do is tap your phone and bam, you’re now buzzed in. I’m sure that’s helping me keep the Neg King title well and intact, but that may have been a factor in how Top Gun went this year as well. Traditionally, all the competitors are together on a stage, whereas I guess it’s a little easier not to feel the stage fright online. Yes, there was a visual reminder in the top right of my screen that there were like 110 people there. But that’s easier to ignore than the rows of all the teams watching.”CLS: Have you had time to process what it means to be Cloverleaf’s all-time leading scorer and the only two-time Top Gun winner?
Brooks: "A little. The titles are nice, but it’s definitely more the experiences with the team. I value our 15th-place finish as a B Team freshman year at SSNCT more than either of those two. Definitely my final goal here at Cloverleaf -- as long as we can make it into the field at HSNCT (the High School National Championship Tournament) -- is to get the team to the playoffs for the first time in school history. That honor upon Cloverleaf and more -- our Quiz Bowl program and everything Abby, Emily, Joe and Mr. Flint have put in. It would be that magnum opus for all of us.”CLS: A lot of people only see Quiz Bowl on the “Academic Challenge” TV show. How much work goes into QB in the off season and between matches?
Brooks: "During the summer, there are a lot of great organizations like ‘Qwiz’ Bowl that offer weeklong summer camps just to dive into specific topics. There are introductory classes for getting into a certain larger topic like literature, history or science. But there’s also a lot of specific topics like Eastern European history. So there’s definitely that weeklong process. I definitely think you can combine your studying for Quiz Bowl with studying for some of your other classes you take in high school, especially like Mr. Flint’s classes in AP U.S. History and AP European History. He does tailor in a lot of literature and art from those time periods specifically for us Quiz Bowl members, which I just have to appreciate. And I’m sure the rest of us do, too. If you want to improve as a Quiz Bowl player, it is important to spend at least an hour or two a week on whatever source that helps you study. I like to just straight-up read NAQT packets. Others really like Quizlet and that’s an amazing source, of course.”CLS: Do you plan to continue in Quiz Bowl beyond high school?
Brooks: "Absolutely. It’s a factor in my college admissions … whether the place I’m going has a Quiz Bowl team and how they’ve done in their history. But honestly, I’d love to join a decent Quiz Bowl team and try to elevate them further. That would be amazing.”CLS: Congratulations on a great career and thank you for representing Cloverleaf all these years.
Brooks: "I don’t know how much of this would be possible without general support from our community. And from not even like just Mr. Flint, but from our principal, our board. Freshman year, they scheduled graduation around HSNCT, which was just insane! (Students at other schools) had to choose between nationals and graduation. I know I would choose nationals!
“Also, the support from Copley High School Coach Josh Eck who has managed all the technological logistics for the Summit County Academic Challenge League. So without him, that Top Gun Tournament wouldn’t have happened. That whole league definitely wouldn’t have happened and I think there were a couple of other tournaments we’ve been in that have mainly been directed by Josh Eck. So by the collaboration among him and a few others in the State of Ohio, our circuit is doing incredibly well this year.”