I'll jump in and provide an answer, although my feelings on this issue are perhaps more mixed than Tom's, and I'm also curious in his perspective. I played for the Miami Valley School for four years and have been involved as a coach there for four more...the annual high school enrollment at MVS has never been more than 190 students during that time period, and my graduating class in 2009 was considered "big" with 49 students. So in a purely numerical sense, we are very small indeed.
As for what this decision means for schools like my alma mater/current employer, I'll go ahead and say it means we have another opportunity to go and test ourselves on a national stage, except this time against a much-restricted field of teams that are dealing with the same size constraints and classification that we are. Aside from this relatively self-evident point, I don't know if it means much, and I actually think that this development by NAQT is a bad compromise, meant to appease not only folks like Tom and me who think that our schools' small populations make it harder for us to compete with the top tier at HSNCT, but also those coaches at small high schools who think that AMSA or Lehigh Valley Academy have some kind of secret sauce that pushes them to the top of the SSNCT table. The value of the charter-and-private championship is diminished a little bit in my eyes, in no small part due to the 32-team cap vs. 96 for "traditional public" and over 200 for HSNCT. Besides, heaven knows the landscape of national championships in high school quiz bowl is weird and fractured enough.
If a Small School National Championship for quiz bowl is to exist, sponsored by NAQT or anyone else, I feel as though it should be open to all small schools, with no separate divisions...I don't even really mind if homeschool collectives are allowed, although I can understand why NAQT has decided to keep them out (perhaps so we don't end up with "quiz bowl factories," a la Oak Hill for basketball?) I understand many folks may disagree, and I welcome that discussion, and I certainly don't want to come off as though I don't appreciate the many elements that create different challenges for different schools. But here's the gist of my thinking:
First, I've seen firsthand how challenging it is for a school like Miami Valley to support a quiz bowl program and turn it into a real contender on the state level, to say nothing of nationals. Achieving long-term high school QB prowess is difficult for any school, but because we are so small, we might only pull one or two students out of 40 from each high school grade. Right now, we don't have any team members at all from the junior and senior class, and while I hope that changes in the future I can also anticipate that club enrollment will wax and wane. All the coaches on this board need to recruit on some level to fill their ranks, but the smaller schools really need to work hard to catch enough players to consistently field competitive teams.
Second, I think the argument that small traditional public schools and small charter/private schools can't play for the same national championship is unconvincing. The discussion about the necessity of separateness on the national forum seemed to rest on a combination of the following:
- Charter and private schools can be selective and cut underperforming students, as well as restrict their admissions pool either implicitly or explicitly by presenting themselves as "more rigorous" or "more academic."
This is true, but I think this self-selection has very little impact on quiz bowl
success. To have a state or national champion quiz bowl team, you need to find four students that can work together and win games against another school's four students. Four students is a very, very small chunk of a school population, even for a tiny place like MVS. Historically, schools like Fisher Catholic, South Range and Ottawa Hills have been very competitive on the state and national scene even when they were playing "big schools." Their four players were better in those tournaments than the other team's four players most of the time. And simply being a private school doesn't give any advantage in winning quiz bowl games...just look at the NAQT Results page for Miami Valley, and you'll see an excellent refutation of the argument that all private schools have to do is "roll the ball out and play" with their academic superfreaks. That argument becomes all the more invalid when you realize that quiz bowl is a game based on a certain set of skills, not an exercise of pure intellectual prowess, or how "selective" your school is, or anything not founded in buzzing in and saying the magic words.
- Charter and private schools can teach a "different curriculum" than traditional public schools, and therefore they should not be in the same division of this national championship.
This, again, is factually accurate in terms of academics, but it seems silly in the context of quiz bowl
. I'm very fortunate as an educator in an independent school to be able to choose my own curriculum to a vast degree, and I understand that this is a real privilege. However, in practice this means I actually focus less
on covering lots of content, which is sort of antithetical to quiz bowl success. Because our English department makes up its own book lists based on class themes, and we offer no AP lit classes (to choose a convenient example of a prescribed curriculum), my team hasn't read a bunch of books for school that other teams might consider chestnuts. Most quiz bowl players that get to be excellent quiz bowl players achieve success because they study on their own, play quiz bowl, and work to get better, not because they go to some magical school where the curriculum is arranged around the quiz bowl canon. With such a wide variety of educational options and philosophies out there between all the schools in an SSNCT field, a curriculum-based argument seems to me to hold very little water.
Third, while as a private school Miami Valley's quiz bowl program doesn't have as many budget issues as some of our small-school peers, our team does not have unlimited resources. Sometimes I do end up paying tournament entry fees out of my pocket, as I'm sure many of you do/have done. Moreover, the school itself does not have unlimited resources, and our chosen size does affect how our school has structured itself...our course catalog is smaller, because we employ a smaller amount of teachers, our facilities are not mind-blowingly impressive, and while we can operate independently of a school district, it's not like our administration is bending over backwards to heap favors on quiz bowl compared to other things. And with such a small student body, it means that in most cases, our quiz bowl players are also the editors of the school paper, and
starting at midfield for the soccer team, and
in speech and debate...again, conflicts are not unique to private schools or small schools, but let's just say I wouldn't have played any sports for MVS if the coaches had been in a position where they could cut people. There's no realistic way for NAQT or anyone else to go down the line and determine which institutions are or aren't getting an advantage by being a charter/private school, since they differ so much in their offerings, communities, backgrounds, etc.
Because quiz bowl features such small teams, one or two players can make a huge difference for a program, and finding them at any small school is a matter of recruiting, coaching, and pure luck. If Sam Blizzard grew up in Chillicothe instead of Clayton, I have little doubt that he would have found Josh Queen (or vice versa) and CHS would have seen excellent results had they attended SSNCT. This isn't to take anything away from David Jones and his hard work coaching that entire Northmont team, and I certainly don't mean to diminish all the work that Sam put in...again, the argument isn't that you can just roll the ball out and play, but that if your players have the right drive and a committed coach you can mold them into the best four people in the match you're playing. An alternate-universe Sam at Chillicothe probably wouldn't have played 31 tournaments a year or traveled to Texas Invitational three times, and I don't know him or Northmont or fortune-telling well enough to know if that change in process would have utterly diminished his playing career, but there you go. To flip it around to MVS again, I got very lucky to have Max, John John, and William play middle school quiz bowl all at the same time (who knows what will happen to them in high school), more lucky to have them all excited to continue, and even more lucky
that their families ended up coming to our school instead of wherever else...to flip selectivity around, no one is forced to come to Miami Valley or Fisher Catholic, and in a small city like Dayton that means our pool of potential quiz bowlers gets even tinier compared to what it could be. So as a small private school, your potential players have to be a) excited enough about quiz bowl to come to a practice, b) driven enough to want to study, c) committed enough to stay with the team even as they have a bunch of other things going on, and d) have parents who keep on re-upping the commitment to the school itself. With the exception of (d), all those factors are true for any school, and my assertion is that (d) can be a double-edged sword.
So, in summary: I kind of think that SSNCT is a good thing, because even though quiz bowl is four-on-four, I think there are real advantages to having an 1,000-person student body vs. 170. But I think the issues that small schools of all stripes face are too similar to warrant crowning two national championship teams at SSNCT. On this point, I give some credence to Fred Morlan's argument on the national forum:
Charter schools should be allowed to play SSNCT. Private schools should be allowed to play SSNCT. If you don't want to lose to those teams, then get good(er). [...] If you're going to host a small school national championship, then allow teams from schools with low enrollments compete. If all it took to have a good quiz bowl team was to have a selective admissions policy, we'd have way more LASAs in our world then we do.