Eric Akins, coach of the Central Valley High School Knowledge Bowl team, credits the team’s success to students who are very bright, very curious and very attentive.
The students credit their success to Mojo, a monkey carved from a coconut.
“None of this would be possible without our deity,” said Will Kable, a junior on the varsity team.
Mojo is really more mascot than deity, traveling to every competition with the team for good luck. His charms certainly worked last weekend, when he helped his team win the state Knowledge Bowl 4A division in Marysville, Wash.
The team always has impressed. Over six years, the team has garnered 171 wins and nine losses. Two years ago, the team came in second at state, missing the top spot by just one point. This year the team won each portion of the state tournament, securing the championship with four questions left to answer. Their score on the written round was 46 correct out of 50 questions, which Akins said was the best score among all the 95 schools in every division.
“You just have to be good every single round,” Akins said. He compared the competition to the NCAA basketball tournament – if you want to keep playing, you can’t lose a game.
Akins said Knowledge Bowl is not a trivia contest. When a question is asked, students ring a buzzer and have 15 seconds to come up with an answer. Some of the questions are default questions the competition always uses, which enables students to buzz in before the question is read through.
The students on the team – Kable, co-captains Andrew Schutts and Joe Aman, Zander White, Hailey Reneau and Mark Crossen – all laugh when asked what their winning question was.
“A frankfurter is named for a city in Germany. What synonym for a frankfurter is named for a city in Austria?”
The answer is “wiener,” which is what someone from Vienna is called – a Viener. Many teammates joked they were the “wieners” of the state championship.
To prepare for Knowledge Bowl, students each have their own way of studying.
“I read Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia,” said White, a senior. He said the reference book on world literature is good for learning about literature, history and mythology, but not so much for the sciences.
They also practice – they often play the junior varsity teams at Central Valley, and former students come back to challenge them. Twice a year they play against Akins, who teaches Advanced Placement European History.
“It’s not like sports,” Kable said. “It’s more academic. It’s fun.”
Some of them have specialties. Akins said that while Aman has expertise in the sciences and White knows literature, all of them excel in many subjects.
“I’m good at being good-looking,” joked Crossen, a senior.
Every year, they design team T-shirts. This year, the front reads “Veni, vidi, ludi, vici”: “I came, I saw, I played, I conquered.”
The back says “Knowledge is power” in Latin: “Scientia potentia est.”
Akins said there are around 35 students competing at the varsity and junior varsity levels at CV. He said he looks for students to join who are already in the AP program, but he also checks SAT and PSAT scores to find new members. They start practicing in September and keep at it until the end of the school year. Although their competitive season is over now, they are practicing for next year’s season.
Next season won’t include Akins, who has been the team’s coach for 10 years. He’s taking a leave of absence to do some writing, living in Paris with his family. Vince Eberly, English language development coordinator and Russian teacher, will take over the program while Akins is gone. Akins said Eberly was a good fit because he coached the team at University High School.
“This accomplishment is very special to me because it is the ultimate goal we can have as a school: winning a competition based on academics,” said Principal Mike Hittle.