National History Bowl competitors return victorious

May 2, 2014 — by Michelle Leung and Carolyn Sun
History Bee Photo

Junior Bruce Lou won the US History Bee out of 162 competitors.

When a team of six individuals first formed the History Bowl team in 2012, they never imagined the program would be so successful so soon. 
When a team of six individuals first formed the History Bowl team in 2012, they never imagined the program would be so successful so soon. 
In just its third year of competition, the school’s Varsity A team for History Bowl placed second out of 216 teams at the National History Bowl tournament on April 23-28 in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va. Junior Bruce Lou also won the individual U.S. History Bee championships, defeating the reigning individual and solo-team champion, senior Sameer Rai of Bellarmine. 
During the tournament, all of the participating teams played 10 preliminary rounds, and then the top 32 advanced to the playoffs.
"We had a really close quarterfinal and semifinal, each resting on a single question," junior Varsity A team member Ethan Ngai said. "Although we didn't win, I think we're all proud of our performance and exceeded our expectations."
During a History Bowl competition, participants buzz in answers as quickly as possible. In contrast to jeopardy, where the questions get progressively harder, History Bowl questions are initially more difficult, in order to eliminate buzzer races. 
The Varsity A team, consisting of senior and captain Nick Chow, Lou, Ngai and junior Nitya Sampath, had a rough time in the preliminary matches, going into playoffs seeded seventh. The team said that non-traditional questions during the preliminary rounds contributed to their low standings. For example, there were questions about off-beat topics such as the Beach Boys, the Dead Kennedys and isotopes.
Although the team won all 10 preliminary matches, they did not score as many points as other top teams, such as the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy (LASA) from Austin, Texas, Dorman from Roebuck, S.C. and Bellarmine. As a result, they had to face the toughest teams during playoffs.
“During the playoff rounds on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, I was a nervous wreck,” Chow said. “At lunch right before the Bellarmine match, I only consumed liquids — chili and a strawberry milkshake — because I couldn't bring myself to eat anything. But once [I] started playing in matches, the anxiety and nervousness faded away completely.”
During the semifinals, the team defeated the Bellarmine team — including the legendary Rai — 271-270.
The teams went into sudden death overtime, and then Lou beat Rai to the last question, which asked about then-Mass. governor Michael Dukakis’ iconic tank ride photograph during the 1988 presidential election. 
“I felt my heart beating against me,” Lou said. “You could feel the tension. When we won, I literally leapt out of my seat and jumped in celebration.”
History Bowl depends as much on mentality during the competition as on knowledge, members said. Once a team is unnerved by losing early questions, opponents can capitalize their momentary panic and win the match with momentum. 
When the Falcon team faced LASA in the finals, however, they discovered that this school was different. 
“LASA doesn’t get psyched out,” Lou said. “They have four really good people. You can’t just take out one person.”
According to Lou, most of the other top teams are “basically one person.” For example, Bellarmine’s top player is Rai, and Dorman’s top player is Tabitha Walker. Against LASA’s four strong members in the finals, however, the team lost 380-240, landing them in second place.
Another memorable moment was Lou’s victory over Rai in the final round of the varsity individual U.S. History Bee tournament, in which 162 people competed, making him national champion.
“I remember that [Ngai] and I were extremely nervous for Bruce while he played, but then we watched in awe, slack-jawed as Bruce steam-rolled Sameer to clinch the championship,” Chow said. “On the final question, Bruce answered ‘1919’ when the question started off by asking what year the Great Boston Molasses Flood occurred, utterly shocking the audience with his speed and depth of knowledge.”
The team is proud of its finish in the tournament, but it is even more proud of its improvement. Last year, the Varsity A team placed in the top 20, and in 2012, they placed in the top 100.
“I feel so lucky to have such a great team,” Lou said. “Not just in terms of talent, but in terms of chemistry, too. We were so tight at the end, it hurt me when we played together for the last time.”
Because the Varsity A team is mostly composed of juniors, the team is confident about its prospects next year. This comes in the wake of Bellarmine, LASA and Dorman losing their seniors.
“Next year, we’ll be so much better than this year. It’s hard to believe we’ll get better, but we will,” Lou said. “Next year, our goal is to instill fear in all the teams that we play, and then ultimately, win it all.”
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