By Dave Ongie
Speed. Composure. Raw brainpower.
It takes a unique combination of attributes for a student to become a successful Scholars’ Bowl competitor.
At Science Hill, the Scholars’ Bowl club is flourishing to the point that the school is now fielding two teams. Under the tutelage of co-sponsors Dr. Tom Bier and Michael Laviano, the Hilltoppers recently matched wits with several other schools from around the state in the PBS Scholars’ Bowl competition in Knoxville.
In that competition, Science Hill’s varsity team advanced all the way to the “Fortuitous Final Four” before falling to Oak Ridge.
“Enough students had taken an interest in our club over the past couple of years to be able to compete with two strong teams,” Laviano said. “We have students from each grade level that participate in the club, so it was decided to have varsity and junior varsity style teams.”
While the lights shine brightest during competition days, being a part of the Scholars’ Bowl program requires a daily commitment. Students spend several hours on their own each week studying a wide range of topics from science to art history and all points between.
When it came time to break up the competitors into the varsity (Maroon) and junior varsity (Gold) teams, Bier and Laviano started by picking captains for each squad. This year, the two captains are siblings – Clay Wheeler, a senior, leads the Maroon team while his sister Sunny Wheeler took the helm of the Gold team.
“Clay had significant input in putting together his team of three main and two alternate players,” Laviano said. “Like her older brother, Sunny carefully determined who would be her lead players and who would serve as an alternate.”
Along with the Wheelers, Kerry Wang, Matthew Burton, Cheryl Borsos, Rose O’Leary, Silas Wang, Thao Pham, Shivam Amin, Justin Canfield, Telak Brahmbhatt, Ly Na Ngyuen and Jimmy Liu compete for Science Hill.
According to Laviano, there is an art to putting together a great team. It involves finding every participants strengths in order to put the right four players into each competition. But the X-factor is speed under pressure.
“Players need to be extremely ‘quick on the draw’ by being able to buzz in faster than their opponents,” Laviano said. “Dr. Bier, the captains and I try to diversify our teams with players who each have their own strengths – math, science, history, literature, etc. – as well as who can buzz in fast enough to be able to answer the question.”
When it all comes together, as it did in the most recent competition, it is rewarding for the competitors and sponsors alike. But Laviano said co-sponsoring the club is rewarding for him on a daily basis with two National Merit Scholarship semifinalists on the team along with several other highly decorated students.
“All are incredibly talented young individuals who are going to make such a positive impact in our world someday,” Laviano said. “What is more, the students in the club are just fun to be around.”