History Bowl seniors reflect, prepare for postponed Nationals

April 4, 2020 — by Preston Fu and Viraaj Reddi

Team utilizes online chat software Discord to continue practicing for buzzer-based competitions

It was only a year ago.

Senior captain Jason Hong sat alertly in his seat at the National History Bowl competition in Washington, D.C. with a single question remaining. Saratoga was down by 20 points. The only way they could win was by answering just a few words into the question, thus earning 30 points.

By the time the first few words were read, Hong buzzed and spouted out the answer. He happened to remember it from one of his AP U.S. History readings.

“Irish-Americans,” he said confidently.

“Irish-Americans” was correct. They had won the round.

Senior team member Sathvik Kaliyur reported that it is not too uncommon for their score to be within 20 points of their opponents’, and that rounds often come down to the last question. A mispronunciation could be the difference between advancing to Nationals or not.

“It’s incredibly intense at nationals during playoff rounds,” Kaliyur said. “If you win a playoff round at Nationals, you’ll play a hard team next.” 

The History Bowl team members could not have achieved their elite status without the hundreds of hours spent diligently reading, note-taking and doing practice questions. Hong said that he tries to spend at least 30 minutes a day scrutinizing and further developing his comprehensive notes.

For a taste of whether you’re meant to be a History Bowler, check out this list of five sample questions and see how you do.

As captain, Hong previously coordinated with assistant principal Matt Torrens to organize weekly buzzer-based practices. Now that California is in a shelter-in-place, Hong has begun hosting virtual practices once a week through Discord, a voice, video and text application and website used primarily by gamers. He reads the questions out loud, and others just type the answer in the chat to buzz.

“History Bowl is primarily self-motivated, so I assume the kids that are engaged are taking advantage of the quarantine to grind a lot,” Hong said. “Studying can take a lot of forms, whether it is reading books, watching historical documentaries or reviewing notes.”

Their weekly practices are in preparation for the National History Bowl competition, which was initially scheduled for April 23-26 in Arlington, Va. but has been pushed back to December. However, since all current members of the varsity A team are seniors, it is uncertain whether they will all attend the in person competition next fall in their freshman year of college.

Hong and the team recognize the challenge of facing historically strong Northern Californian teams. At almost every regional competition for the past few years, the Saratoga varsity A team has finished in second place, only behind their local rival, the home-schooled team Pi-oneers. Beating the Pi-oneers once at a tournament two years ago came as a surprise. This year, at the Feb. 9 regional competition Hong helped to organize at Saratoga High, the varsity team placed third and the JV team second in their respective divisions.

Kaliyur noted another difficulty they have had: Since the range of topics covered in bowl-type competitions is broad, not only must everyone have a general spread of knowledge, but each team member must also specialize in a specific area.

“The school’s AP courses are a good foundation, but they don't go into as much detail as we need,” Kaliyur said. “We still encourage all of our freshmen and sophomores to read the old AP history textbooks before their junior year.”

Hong has enjoyed his time in History Bowl, and though the event isn’t available in college, he plans to continue learning through Quiz Bowl, which has a similar format. 

“Whenever we do well, I’m always happy that our hard work paid off,” Hong said.

Roster of those on History Bowl team (lineups change frequently)

Jason Hong (captain)

Connor Oaklander

Winston Liu

Bora Alaybeyi

Jeffrey Ma

Shivam Mani

Grant Chen

Derek Hsu

Sathvik Kaliyur

Mathew Luo

Sean Chen

Dhruv Singh

Vincent Cheng

Henrik Zhang

Joshua Fang

Ethan Lin

Tushar Shrivastav

Kunal Shrivastav

Aahaan Singh

Adithya Vuruputoor

Alan Zu

Andrew Xiao

Anirudh Iyer

George Huang

Nirmik Tambe

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