MUKILTEO — The students laughed as they sat around a table with a tall green and gold trophy in the middle.
They recalled how certain they’d felt that the prize wouldn’t be coming home with them.
The Kamiak High School Knowledge Bowl team won the first-place state trophy last month. They spent most of a Saturday competing in a quiz-style contest at Arlington High School. The matches featured trivia in areas such as math, science, literature and history. More than 600 students from 102 teams participated.
Kamiak took first place in the 4A division. Stanwood High also snagged a trophy, for third place in 3A. Arlington, Jackson, Monroe and Snohomish high school students competed as well.
The Kamiak team had a rough start. After a written test, they got into the main contest, where three teams at a time faced off for a chance to advance toward the semifinals.
In Knowledge Bowl, players buzz in to answer questions. They are not provided materials to prepare and the questions can focus on just about anything: math equations, historical figures, modern movie quotes.
In preliminary rounds, Kamiak scored low. They scraped a spot in the semifinals. The players stopped keeping score.
“I was more stressed than they were,” said senior Mitchell Vallins, who tallied the points as he watched the final round. Though teams consist of six players, only four compete at a time.
At the end of the match, Vallins put up one finger. At first, senior Sanjay Satish was baffled. How could they have only one point? Then he realized Vallins was telling him they’d taken first place.
The team had hoped for top three, but didn’t expect to win, they said.
“They’re humble,” adviser Nina Bakketun said. “I had a lot more confidence.”
There are several Knowledge Bowl teams at Kamiak, but only one team per school can go to state. Kamiak’s included juniors and seniors with experience and complementary areas of expertise.
Throughout the season, though, the more experienced players were spread among other teams to help new members. Two juniors who competed at state, Abheek Chakrabarti and Brandon Ross, plan to be back next year.
It can be hard to get students interested, they said, but Knowledge Bowl is more fun than most realize.
“If you have a favorite subject in school, there’s a good chance that some of it will apply to Knowledge Bowl,” Ross said.
No one is expected to know it all. They specialize. Senior Margaret Li, for example, is the best at grammar and English. Ross is the go-to guy for history.
“Without any one person here, I don’t think we would have done as well as we did,” Vallins said. “It’s not any one person who carries the team.”
There have been a number of questions over dozens of practices and competitions that prove the value of a cohesive team, the students said.
In one question about how many times something could circle the earth moving at the speed of light, competitors needed to know the circumference of the Earth and the speed of light in miles per second. Vallins knew both, but leaned on teammates to do the math.
Li always has enjoyed learning, but often wondered when she would use some information.
“Knowledge Bowl has made me feel better,” she said. “Every bit of trivia can be useful.”
Her favorite question ever was about a movie quote. The first word of the quote was “Fiona,” and she buzzed in, interrupting the quote, to guess correctly that it was from the movie “Shrek.”
“I don’t think there’s ever been a question about ‘Shrek’ since,” Vallins said.
Senior Joey Shafer has competed in Knowledge Bowl since he was a freshman. He considers his four years on the team one of the most rewarding experiences in high school. He’s made good friends. They laugh a lot, and they support one another.
Shafer, Li and Vallins plan to attend the University of Washington. Shafer and Li have been admitted to the computer science program, and Vallins is looking to study mechanical engineering. Satish is debating between Duke and Georgetown universities for economics and mathematics. He wants to mesh data with public policy, he said.
The colleges have Quiz Bowl teams, similar to Knowledge Bowl. The Kamiak champions are thinking they’d like to join.
Do you have the knowledge?
Here are some sample Knowledge Bowl questions.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.