By Rebecca Schmitz
Last year, Teresa Goodin, a gifted resource teacher at Henley Middle School, had an idea. Goodin had been helping her colleague Eric Strzepek coach Western’s Scholastic Bowl Team, now ranked second in the nation. Why not start a quiz team at Henley, she thought, to get younger students interested and prepare them for a spot on the Western team?
So Henley’s Junior Scholastic Bowl Team, the only middle school team in the Charlottesville region, was born. Goodin recruited students she knew and advertised with flyers and on Henley’s video announcements to get the word out. The team, which consists of 25 students, practices every Thursday morning during the students’ enrichment period. During the tournament seasons, which run for about 4 to 6 weeks in the fall and spring, they practice after school as well.
The team, which is comprised of about equal numbers of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, is off to a good start. In October, they placed second at their first tournament of the year. Their next tournament will be held in January in Pennsylvania. The middle school team is a bit limited on how far and how often they can travel for tournaments, Goodin says, since its players can’t drive yet!
One of Goodin’s goals in creating a team at Henley was to instill confidence in her players. Answering difficult questions quickly, in front of an audience, can understandably be intimidating. “The hope is that they can try it here in a safe environment,” she said. “I give them pep talks and work really hard to make it a positive experience.” Her strategy appears to be successful: “I’ve noticed a huge increase in their confidence levels.”
At a recent practice, the captain of Western’s Scholastic Bowl Team, Eric Xu, provided guidance and inspiration to Henley’s team. Xu, the second-ranked player in the country, gave the students tips (“If you find you’re really good at something, learn more about those things.”) and encouragement. “It’s not out of the question for you to finish in the top 10 at Nationals,” he told them.
Xu is a friendly and enthusiastic mentor to the children. He acknowledged how hard it can be to hone in on one topic to specialize in: “There’s just so much out there to learn, it can seem overwhelming.” He urged the students to “think of one category you’d be really interested in learning.” He gave them examples from his own experience, about how being on the team sparked an interest in British novels, a topic he’d never been interested in before.
Literature, history, and science are considered the “biggest” categories at tournaments. Smaller categories include topics such as philosophy, economists, music, and art. Xu suggested that students focus on one big category and one small one.
After Xu finished speaking, practice began. With Goodin reading practice questions, and Strzepek there to help, the students buzzed in answers to topics ranging from art history to chemistry. Sixth graders were just as likely to answer as eighth graders. When students buzzed in too quickly, Xu noted, “The discipline that is so important is writing down the question. There will be 15 other things in the question designed to distract you [from the thing they’re really asking].”
If Caroline Koesler is any indication, Henely’s students have a strong future in sight when they reach high school. Koesler, the only eighth grader on Henley’s team last year, is already making her mark as a freshman at Western. As a member of Western’s team, Koesler, whose specialty is geography, is already a starting player at tournaments.