By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
In a heroic effort, Monroe High School students are putting heads together to try to save Hi-Q. Rescue of the prestigious academic competition is falling on kids’ shoulders.
That’s both a sad fact and a nostalgic reminder of the way things used to be — back when Everett was a milltown and the waterfront mill prospered.
It was 64 years ago, in 1948, that the Scott Paper Co. established the Hi-Q academic competition in Pennsylvania. It’s the oldest continuous quiz competition for high school students in the nation. Scott Paper sponsored contests in seven states where it had pulp and paper plants.
In Snohomish County, Hi-Q started in 1976. That year, a team of four Arlington High School students — Susan Cook, Gary Beihl, Dennis Williams and Randy Jorgensen — captured first place in the county’s first-ever Hi-Q contest. They took home a $1,000 prize for scholarships.
Here and elsewhere, Hi-Q was paid for by Scott Paper, which operated the Everett pulp and paper mill that in 1995 was taken over by the Kimberly-Clark Corp.
Kimberly-Clark closed its Everett pulp mill and tissue plant earlier this year. About 700 workers lost jobs. The 66-acre site is for sale, and the mill is being dismantled.
For Hi-Q, Kimberly-Clark’s support ended years ago. In 1997, Kimberly-Clark let area school districts know the company would soon stop sponsoring the competitions.
Shelby Sutton, a longtime Scott Paper employee and later Kimberly-Clark’s Hi-Q coordinator, told The Herald in 1997 that the local contests had cost the company as much as $56,000 per year. Calling Hi-Q “the granddaddy of all academic quiz competitions,” Sutton said, “The program speaks for itself. It’s first-class, and we’re trying to keep it that way.”
After Hi-Q lost Kimberly-Clark sponsorship, the program was helped for a time by several donors of smaller amounts. The Everett Rotary Club, Snohomish County PUD, Everett Community College, and more than 20 participating high schools kicked in money.
By the end of the 1990s, Everett Community College had taken over the program. And by 2003, Hi-Q was again thriving, with more than 40 area high schools competing. Some matches were held in the Everett Mall’s center court.
Yet in a front-page article in Thursday’s Herald, writer Alejandro Dominguez reported that EvCC suspended the Hi-Q program in May. Amy Hammons, high school relations coordinator and Hi-Q program manager at the college, said the loss of state funds and a dwindling number of schools competing brought on the tough choice to end Hi-Q support.
To their credit, Monroe High School students have taken on the task of finding the money. “It’s not like any other program,” 15-year-old sophomore Cassie Engvall said in Thursday’s article.
Jo Ann Douglas, 73, knows how important Hi-Q can be for some students. A former school librarian, the Monroe woman coached Sultan High School Hi-Q teams for 20 years.
“One of the wonderful things about Hi-Q, whether you were from a big or a small school, you could still take part,” she said. “Maybe we can’t be as good as a big school in sports, but students could discover that on an individual basis they could learn just as much.”
She remembers when Hi-Q was a big deal. Some schools held full assemblies to support teams. In past Herald coverage, there are reports of schools bringing cheerleaders and pep bands to Hi-Q events.
Douglas recalls getting together with Hi-Q teams to watch films of Shakespeare plays to prepare for the quizzes.
“Kids are focused on different things now,” she said.
Not all kids, though. Monroe High School’s Hi-Q team has put up a “Save Hi-Q!” Facebook page and is seeking corporate backing.
On a small scale, the teens’ Hi-Q struggle is indicative of what all of Snohomish County is going through with the loss of a major employer — and the loss of the millworkers’ charitable donations.
“The Kimberly-Clark mill and its employees were an important resource to the community for a number of years,” said Neil Parekh, spokesman for United Way of Snohomish County. “Their contributions — $2,222,409 since 1998 — to United Way have helped to make Snohomish County what it is today.”
Here’s a Hi-Q question from a 2003 semifinal match: “Gustave Courbet, a French realist, used what kind of implement to paint his canvases?”
Too bad that the answer (a spatula) may be easier to come up with than money to save Hi-Q.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.