With its game-show-like format, high school Scholar Bowl competitions are contested in a manner that’s familiar to most people.

Formerly referred to as Academic Bowl and Quiz Bowl, Scholar Bowl basically pits teams of players against each other in a quest to score the most points via answering questions.

Similarly to sports, Scholar Bowl is overseen in Missouri by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, and schools are divided into six classes based on enrollment totals. Also like sports, teams are placed in conferences with other relatively nearby squads and compete in district championship tournaments to determine berths in the state playoffs within each class.

Houston is a member of the South Central Association conference, and will this year compete in postseason in the Class 3 District 1 Tournament April 9 at Portageville (in the Bootheel).

The size of a regular season Scholar Bowl tournament can vary from a handful teams to as many as 20 or more. Teams compete in one-on-one games (or rounds) during tournaments, with players holding electronic buttons and “buzzing in” when they want to answer a question. Scoring is usually based on “toss-up” questions and subsequent bonus questions. If a player answers incorrectly, the other team has the chance to give the correct answer and “steal” the points.

The questions are provided by National Academic Quiz Tournaments LLC (NAQT) in Shawnee, Kan., and can be related to virtually any subject.

Houston’s Scholar Bowl program was launched in the mid-1990s and the varsity team won its first district championship in 1999. The program is now guided by head coach Jason Pounds (a social studies teacher since 2013 and iconic “Voice of the Tigers” at sporting events) and assistant coach James Allen (a science teacher).

Teams play with four starters and two reserves, and games feature two halves. Timeouts and substitutions are allowed.

“If I’m having to call a timeout,” Pounds said, “it’s usually due to a confidence issue, like when we’ve gotten down early and forgotten how good we are. There are also little tidbits of strategy you can offer, and sometimes it’s to break the rhythm of the other team.”

Pounds said it’s good to have “specialists” who are strong in a particular subject, but players with lots of general knowledge can provide a huge boost.

As HHS Scholar Bowl head coach and social studies teacher Jason Pounds reads a question, junior Andy Durham, left, and senior Devon Sawyer prepare to buzz in during an impromptu one-on-one competition last week in Pounds’ classroom.

“There are areas where we’re stronger than others,” Pounds said, “but we’ve been working to close those gaps. We have a good mixture; a lot of our guys are generalists but have strong areas, too. We have a good team across the board.”

The Tigers have had significantly good results in Scholar Bowl competition in recent years. Both the varsity and junior varsity teams have won two consecutive SCA championships, and the varsity squad took third in the Class 3 playoffs last year, falling to Fair Grove in the semifinals before downing Cole Camp in the third-place game. The varsity Tigers won district championships in 2016, 2019 and 2021 (there was no district tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19).

Houston hosted a nine-team tournament last Saturday (March 12), and ended up in second place behind Fair Grove. So far this season, the Tigers varsity squad has a robust 51-16 record, while the JV bunch is 31-14.

The varsity squad consists of seniors Devon Sawyer and Alex Swallow, along with juniors Ben Cook, Andy Durham, Emily Honeycutt and Tyler Lawson.

During a game, players must remain focused and be ready for surprises, twists and disappointments.

“It’s really intense,” said Durham, who is in his sixth year of Scholar Bowl. “There is definitely strategy involved, based on the team you’re facing. Once you play enough, you kind of get a feel for where a question is going, and even if you don’t directly know the answer, you can put a pretty good guess out there.

“If you’re playing aggressively, you’ll just buzz in and give whatever answer you’re thinking of.”

In certain situations, the pressure of competition is very real.

“I often have to focus on a specific point and not pay attention to anything else,” said Sawyer, who has been involved in Scholar Bowl for four years, “That can be hard when the other team is quickly getting a lot of things right; that can shake your focus, and your confidence as well.”

The Houston High School Scholar Bowl program is led by head coach Jason Pounds (a social studies teacher) left, and assistant coach James Allen (a science teacher).

Just like each particular sport, excelling in Scholar Bowl takes a kid who loves it and is dedicated to it, and the rewards of participating can be life-changing.

“I’ve always been a super-academic person,” Sawyer said. “I like taking tests and I like doing those sorts of contests. When I was starting high school, a friend of mine was telling about how she was going to Scholar Bowl practice and I didn’t know what that was.

“As she was telling me about it, I basically realized that it was a sport for the smart kids. I started showing up and I loved it.”

“I saw a flyer for it,” Durham said, “and I thought it sounded cool. When I got into it, I realized I was gaining a lot from it – not just culture and knowledge, but I gained a family. It’s really been incredible being a part of this.”

“I’ve made some of my absolute best friends through this program,” Sawyer said. “We’re a very closely-knit group. There’s a sense of community that makes you want to keep coming back.”

“It’s humbling being around kids who are a heck of a lot smarter than me,” Allen said. “They teach me, and I don’t have kids of my own, so these kids are my family, too.”

MSHSAA allows a squad to play in up to 14 tournaments in a season, and Houston has hosted three this season, including the SCA championships. Next up for the Tigers is a tournament March 26 at Mountain Grove.

Pounds and Allen said Houston’s players love to practice and are almost constantly looking for ways to improve.

“If you’re a Scholar Bowl kid, you have a thirst for knowledge and you’re an explorer,” Allen said. “This isn’t just a sport for smart kids, it’s a sport for hard-working kids.

“It’s unreal and it’s non-stop.”

“I’m extremely proud of this team and the program overall,” Pounds said. “I’ve always thought Scholar Bowl is good for kids and kids are good for Scholar Bowl.”

HHS 2022 SCHOLAR BOWL ROSTER

Name, grade

Devon Sawyer, 12

Alex Swallow, 12

Ben Cook, 11

Aubrey Crockett, 11

Andy Durham, 11

Emily Honeycutt, 11

Tyler Lawson, 11

Xander Riggs, 11

Lilly Scheliga, 10

Alexandra Benoist, 9

David Eastman, 9

Paul Kimrey, 9

Ben Steelman, 9

Head coach: Jason Pounds

Assistant coach: James Allen

GET INVOLVED

The HHS Scholar Bowl program is seeking new players. For information, contact Jason Pounds at the school or email jpounds@houston.k12.mo.us.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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