MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

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MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by ansonberns » Thu Apr 19, 2018 1:24 pm

It's Academic has been a significant point of contention in the past on these forums (see: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 48&t=15767 and http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... =6&t=11520) and I think the general consensus is that the show was the impetus for the growth of the DC Metro area quizbowl circuit, but now it largely detracts from pyramidal quizbowl. I personally enjoy the format somewhat (and Blair has seen success at it) and thus I'm not at all suggesting that it is bad or should be stopped. I do think, however, that there is a significant opportunity to recruit some new teams to pyramidal quizbowl that are currently only playing speed. Centennial, RM, and Blair, are the only teams from Maryland going to HSNCT, and no DC team is going (although GDS is a strong pyramidal team), but MABL is still alive and well and has many competitors every year. I think we should make an effort to include teams like Wootton (who played a pyramidal tournament this year for the first time in 10 years), Whitman (who attended a pyramidal tournament as recently as 3 years ago), Churchill (whose program seems to be kind of dying with the most recent graduating classes) and schools that have only ever played speed. If this involves making some sort of organization (a la quizbowl alliances in other states) or maybe just more outreach, I don't know. Does anyone (including people not necessarily from the area) have any thoughts?
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by 1.82 » Thu Apr 19, 2018 2:41 pm

Some months ago, I made a map of schools playing It's Academic this year; schools that played a tournament on NAQT questions during the 2016–17 school year are starred. The revelation that stood out most was that almost no Prince George's County schools play It's Ac (which is very interesting), but more generally this map provides a decent road map for expansion. It's Academic isn't quizbowl, but I suspect that it's easier to get schools that participate in It's Academic to turn their It's Academic teams into quizbowl teams than to start from scratch (not that both aren't worthy endeavors).

You're correct, Anson, in noting that a number of Montgomery County schools that used to have robust quizbowl programs really don't anymore. Since roughly the start of the decade, the Montgomery County quizbowl circuit hasn't grown but instead shrunk. Baltimore County stands out as another area of potential growth. Despite the longtime national success of top teams from Maryland, the penetration of quizbowl in the state is not very deep at all.

I'm no longer directly affiliated with the Maryland Academic Quiz Team, but I can say that people at the University of Maryland would be interested in helping change the current state of affairs for next year and beyond.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by ansonberns » Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:08 pm

Firstly, I think that It's Academic questions in recent years have become more and more quizbowl-ish in that their canon seems to intersect more and more with the pyramidal canon, especially in playoff rounds and later (this seems to be borne out by the fact that we won last year instead of a team like Blake who only does speed). I think this bodes well for converting It's Ac schools to pyramidal. I also think that in Montgomery County the first priority would be getting MABL, the local speed format, onto pyramidal questions (maybe supplied by NAQT? but I don't know if there's any money at all for that). Also, a significant number of tournaments that I've played over the past few years have been at VCU and UVA, and that amount of driving is definitely a barrier to entry for local teams. Making UMD more of a hub for high school quizbowl (especially since UMD is getting so many players already familiar with the HS game next year) would probably make it easier for new teams to get into pyramidal. I'm not as familiar with the Baltimore area, but getting UMD and maybe Hopkins to run more tournaments would likely be beneficial for there, too. I would certainly be willing to work with you, other people from UMD, and other high schools in the area to work something out.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by cchiego » Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:26 pm

ansonberns wrote:Firstly, I think that It's Academic questions in recent years have become more and more quizbowl-ish in that their canon seems to intersect more and more with the pyramidal canon, especially in playoff rounds and later (this seems to be borne out by the fact that we won last year instead of a team like Blake who only does speed). I think this bodes well for converting It's Ac schools to pyramidal. I also think that in Montgomery County the first priority would be getting MABL, the local speed format, onto pyramidal questions (maybe supplied by NAQT? but I don't know if there's any money at all for that).
I'm not even sure it's the questions so much as it is where the incentives are right now. Teachers, parents, and students will start out almost all believing that It's Ac is the one goal they should practice for and prepare for in things like MABL even if they do attend a couple of pyramidal tournaments for "extra practice" on occasion. When all the incentives for everyone at a school to simply do It's Ac and similar speed competitions are counterbalanced only by the knowledge that "pyramidal questions are more fair, fun, and academically rewarding," it will be an uphill challenge to change the other peoples' minds. Keep in mind too that coaches are usually giving up an entire day off to bring teams to a quizbowl tournament. A good way to start addressing this that you can control is to ensure that all quizbowl tournaments hosted in the area are extremely professional and efficiently run.
ansonberns wrote:Also, a significant number of tournaments that I've played over the past few years have been at VCU and UVA, and that amount of driving is definitely a barrier to entry for local teams. Making UMD more of a hub for high school quizbowl (especially since UMD is getting so many players already familiar with the HS game next year) would probably make it easier for new teams to get into pyramidal. I'm not as familiar with the Baltimore area, but getting UMD and maybe Hopkins to run more tournaments would likely be beneficial for there, too. I would certainly be willing to work with you, other people from UMD, and other high schools in the area to work something out.
JHU already seems to run a bunch of HS tournaments. What's the status of teams at GW, American, George Mason, etc? Colleges would be good too, but even better would be using the tournaments that are already being run at various high schools and Georgetown to expand to attract a lot more newer schools. It does sound like it would make sense to get all of the current schools (both college and secondary) on board with something to help plan out a yearly schedule and coordinate outreach, but that will require someone (perhaps yourself!) to take the lead.

It's great that TJ, RM, Blair, GDS, and a few other schools in the area have remained largely committed to pyramidal quizbowl. The side of effect of that, however, is that new schools are going to have a very hard time winning games at tournaments and might not be happy to go 2-8 with wins over D and E teams. Unless there's some major effort to provide competitive opportunities for new teams, it's going to be difficult to retain any teams who do show up (note how the Centennial tournament attracts a critical mass of these newer/less experienced schools; they come back to that). One thing that ought to change is that tournaments in the area need to have robust true novice divisions; a beast frosh-sophomore team or a nationally competitive middle school is NOT the kind of team that should play in these divisions. Of course, this may necessitate a lot of outreach effort to yield even 4-5 new teams at a time for such a division, but such is the way you build up a successful circuit.
ansonberns wrote: If this involves making some sort of organization (a la quizbowl alliances in other states) or maybe just more outreach, I don't know. Does anyone (including people not necessarily from the area) have any thoughts?
There have been many attempts over the years to "do something" with the It's Ac teams but pretty much all of those have broken on the rocky shore of nostalgic, cheesy buzzer speed. Naveed's map is a great place for people to start as would attempts to contact those schools in DC and Prince George's County that don't have a team of any kind and start up a circuit with those. Piecemeal attempts though like simply sending mass-CC'd emails to It's Ac teams contacts are likely not to have much of an effect compared to a carefully planned group effort. Simply creating an alliance in-name-only isn't going to do much (I think that's been tried?). Instead, it's going to take all the major stakeholders coming together to support this kind of project starting basically now if you want to have something (a full-scale mailer and personalized contact campaign, multiple novice-focused tournaments, a good website that speaks to local concerns and teams, etc.) ready to go by fall.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by ansonberns » Thu Apr 19, 2018 5:00 pm

cchiego wrote: I'm not even sure it's the questions so much as it is where the incentives are right now. Teachers, parents, and students will start out almost all believing that It's Ac is the one goal they should practice for and prepare for in things like MABL even if they do attend a couple of pyramidal tournaments for "extra practice" on occasion. When all the incentives for everyone at a school to simply do It's Ac and similar speed competitions are counterbalanced only by the knowledge that "pyramidal questions are more fair, fun, and academically rewarding," it will be an uphill challenge to change the other peoples' minds. Keep in mind too that coaches are usually giving up an entire day off to bring teams to a quizbowl tournament. A good way to start addressing this that you can control is to ensure that all quizbowl tournaments hosted in the area are extremely professional and efficiently run.
I want to emphasize that I'm not advocating any school to not compete in MABL or It's Ac because of pyramidal. Rather, I think many schools that only compete in the former don't realize how similar the latter is, both in terms of academic competition ethos and, like I said, question content. There doesn't need to be any counterbalancing at all. I know there has been a great deal of vitriol against It's Academic (e.g. those threads I linked), but in actuality I think it should be treated as a valuable springboard into pyramidal rather than a competitor. Trying to convince teams to stop playing a competition that has a significant monetary prize is certainly, like you said, an uphill battle. That's why I think by far the most crucial part of this would be transitioning MABL into a VHSL-style locally run pyramidal league instead of a speed league.
cchiego wrote: JHU already seems to run a bunch of HS tournaments. What's the status of teams at GW, American, George Mason, etc? Colleges would be good too, but even better would be using the tournaments that are already being run at various high schools and Georgetown to expand to attract a lot more newer schools. It does sound like it would make sense to get all of the current schools (both college and secondary) on board with something to help plan out a yearly schedule and coordinate outreach, but that will require someone (perhaps yourself!) to take the lead.
Fair point. I've never heard of a tournament at any of the schools you listed. I don't know enough about the college circuit to tell you if there are any quizbowl people at any of those schools. This post was essentially a dry run for that larger project you're describing, and an effort to see if anyone would be on board to lead that project with me.
cchiego wrote: It's great that TJ, RM, Blair, GDS, and a few other schools in the area have remained largely committed to pyramidal quizbowl. The side of effect of that, however, is that new schools are going to have a very hard time winning games at tournaments and might not be happy to go 2-8 with wins over D and E teams. Unless there's some major effort to provide competitive opportunities for new teams, it's going to be difficult to retain any teams who do show up (note how the Centennial tournament attracts a critical mass of these newer/less experienced schools; they come back to that). One thing that ought to change is that tournaments in the area need to have robust true novice divisions; a beast frosh-sophomore team or a nationally competitive middle school is NOT the kind of team that should play in these divisions. Of course, this may necessitate a lot of outreach effort to yield even 4-5 new teams at a time for such a division, but such is the way you build up a successful circuit.
I totally agree. Firstly, Blair is planning on hosting a tournament next year and my current plan is to abandon the idea of doing another housewrite and maybe even make it a totally novice tournament, however that would obviously depend on whether we could get sufficient interest. I am certainly planning on talking to Dr. Seifter of Centennial and, in all honesty, I have little idea how the Centennial tournament is able to get a field essentially 3 times larger than any other tournament in the area can. Apart from that, however, I'm not in charge of how colleges run their tournaments and thus it would be nice for someone from UMD/JHU/Georgetown to weigh in on whether they would be open to focusing more on lower divisions and new teams next year. Also, as a practical matter, I am graduating after next year and my current plan is not to go to school in the immediate vicinity, so my goals are more along the lines of getting the ball rolling for the future as opposed to changing everything all at once. Like I said above, I think transitioning MABL from speed to pyramidal would be an immensely helpful change, and I would probably say it is first on my list of priorities (although I'm not sure how doable it is).
cchiego wrote: There have been many attempts over the years to "do something" with the It's Ac teams but pretty much all of those have broken on the rocky shore of nostalgic, cheesy buzzer speed. Naveed's map is a great place for people to start as would attempts to contact those schools in DC and Prince George's County that don't have a team of any kind and start up a circuit with those. Piecemeal attempts though like simply sending mass-CC'd emails to It's Ac teams contacts are likely not to have much of an effect compared to a carefully planned group effort. Simply creating an alliance in-name-only isn't going to do much (I think that's been tried?). Instead, it's going to take all the major stakeholders coming together to support this kind of project starting basically now if you want to have something (a full-scale mailer and personalized contact campaign, multiple novice-focused tournaments, a good website that speaks to local concerns and teams, etc.) ready to go by fall.
Agreed.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by cchiego » Thu Apr 19, 2018 5:51 pm

I want to emphasize that I'm not advocating any school to not compete in MABL or It's Ac because of pyramidal. Rather, I think many schools that only compete in the former don't realize how similar the latter is, both in terms of academic competition ethos and, like I said, question content. There doesn't need to be any counterbalancing at all. I know there has been a great deal of vitriol against It's Academic (e.g. those threads I linked), but in actuality I think it should be treated as a valuable springboard into pyramidal rather than a competitor. Trying to convince teams to stop playing a competition that has a significant monetary prize is certainly, like you said, an uphill battle.
Except there's limited time and attention in resources for seemingly similar activities at a school level. Why would any team want to come to a pyramidal quizbowl tournament that they'll likely do worse at and have to spend more time studying for compared to a speed-check format? Memorizing old chestnuts and winning buzzer races is fun; actual studying and research is difficult. Plus, there's a clear and locally valued goal of practicing speed-check stuff: making the school look good on TV. This is why the presence of these non-pyramidal TV tournaments all around the country constitutes a direct threat to pyramidal quizbowl everywhere they exist.

That said, there are things pyramidal quizbowl usually does better than speedbowl: better-written questions, fairer rules and formatting, fewer reasons to protest, and being more effective at teaching players new clues. You can make a strong argument that learning clues through pyramidal quizbowl will help in the speed-checks as well. These are probably the best things to start stressing with other schools initially, but there's always going to be an existential issue for pyramidal quizbowl in the area unless there's some changes made in It's Ac as well (which is quite a huge mountain to climb, but ultimately will have to be the goal).
That's why I think by far the most crucial part of this would be transitioning MABL into a VHSL-style locally run pyramidal league instead of a speed league.
I do not know much about MABL, but I would ask: who would be interested in making the questions pyramidal? Usually in other areas that see leagues change, it comes from gaining a majority or at least a vocal plurality of the coaches involved who lead that change. Simply trying to change the format without also winning over the individual members to pyramidal questions is likely going to hit a brick wall, especially if the members see this as preparation for It's Ac.
I am certainly planning on talking to Dr. Seifter of Centennial and, in all honesty, I have little idea how the Centennial tournament is able to get a field essentially 3 times larger than any other tournament in the area can.
This is a good idea but keep in mind that as amazing as the Centennial tournament is not all parts of the Centennial model can be replicated at a circuit-wide level. I do think that the consistency of the logistics of their tournament, the accessibility of the questions, and the separation into divisions are all things that can be imitated.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by ansonberns » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:43 pm

cchiego wrote: Except there's limited time and attention in resources for seemingly similar activities at a school level. Why would any team want to come to a pyramidal quizbowl tournament that they'll likely do worse at and have to spend more time studying for compared to a speed-check format? Memorizing old chestnuts and winning buzzer races is fun; actual studying and research is difficult. Plus, there's a clear and locally valued goal of practicing speed-check stuff: making the school look good on TV. This is why the presence of these non-pyramidal TV tournaments all around the country constitutes a direct threat to pyramidal quizbowl everywhere they exist.
I feel like this isn't a particularly valuable argument to have. Sure, they would have to divide their practice time, and yes that may be a bit of a hard sell, but setting out on a goal to dismantle speed here is a completely fruitless endeavor. Instead, we need to acknowledge the fact that 2 out of 3 teams that play It's Academic are eliminated by mid-fall and another 2/9 are eliminated by mid-winter. I'm not familiar with the inner workings of other schools' It's Ac-only clubs, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they spent essentially half the year barely meeting. That's why I maintain that going into this with the attitude that "speed is wrong and threatens the one true good of quizbowl" is not only incorrect but furthermore the exact opposite of what it takes to convince people to try pyramidal. Instead, the pitch should essentially stress how similar pyramidal and speed are, and that pyramidal is a very fun alternative to doing nothing, rather than a righteous alternative to speed.
I do not know much about MABL, but I would ask: who would be interested in making the questions pyramidal? Usually in other areas that see leagues change, it comes from gaining a majority or at least a vocal plurality of the coaches involved who lead that change. Simply trying to change the format without also winning over the individual members to pyramidal questions is likely going to hit a brick wall, especially if the members see this as preparation for It's Ac.
I think you misunderstood what I meant when I said turn MABL into pyramidal. MABL is run entirely by the constituent schools' coaches, so this would entail exactly what you are talking about: convincing a bunch of member schools that pyramidal is better (hopefully I can get someone from the other big pyramidal MABL school, Richard Montgomery, to help with this). There is essentially no chance that it would actually be pyramidal next year, given how early it is, but getting the gears turning for a change the following year is definitely possible if enough teams that play it become active next season.
cchiego wrote: ...not all parts of the Centennial model can be replicated at a circuit-wide level.
100% agree, but that doesn't mean that some of the many teams that only attend Centennial couldn't be persuaded to become more active.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by Noble Rot » Sun Apr 22, 2018 8:08 pm

ansonberns wrote:I totally agree. Firstly, Blair is planning on hosting a tournament next year and my current plan is to abandon the idea of doing another housewrite and maybe even make it a totally novice tournament, however that would obviously depend on whether we could get sufficient interest. I am certainly planning on talking to Dr. Seifter of Centennial and, in all honesty, I have little idea how the Centennial tournament is able to get a field essentially 3 times larger than any other tournament in the area can. Apart from that, however, I'm not in charge of how colleges run their tournaments and thus it would be nice for someone from UMD/JHU/Georgetown to weigh in on whether they would be open to focusing more on lower divisions and new teams next year. Also, as a practical matter, I am graduating after next year and my current plan is not to go to school in the immediate vicinity, so my goals are more along the lines of getting the ball rolling for the future as opposed to changing everything all at once. Like I said above, I think transitioning MABL from speed to pyramidal would be an immensely helpful change, and I would probably say it is first on my list of priorities (although I'm not sure how doable it is).
One thing you have to keep in mind is the Centennial enjoys a number of advantages that other schools don't. For example, while talking to Dr. Seifter, I was shocked to learn that Centennial didn't have to pay to use the building to host tournaments, whereas at RM, we had to pay MCPS (I believe on a per-room basis) for use of the building for hosted tournaments. They also have a feeder middle school and elementary school programs, and large parent involvement that means they are physically able to hold such large tournaments. We often struggled at RM to get enough staff in terms of both students and parents, and we didn't have a long-standing coach or middle school programs we could rely on for logistical assistance. I don't know the situation at Blair, but I highly doubt it resembles the logistical situation at Centennial.
ansonberns wrote:I think you misunderstood what I meant when I said turn MABL into pyramidal. MABL is run entirely by the constituent schools' coaches, so this would entail exactly what you are talking about: convincing a bunch of member schools that pyramidal is better (hopefully I can get someone from the other big pyramidal MABL school, Richard Montgomery, to help with this). There is essentially no chance that it would actually be pyramidal next year, given how early it is, but getting the gears turning for a change the following year is definitely possible if enough teams that play it become active next season.
I don't know if it's still the case, but when I was in high school, Beltways was run by the coach of Rockville High School, who I believe also wrote the questions (though I don't know for sure if that was the case.) I can't speak with too much certainty, but my understanding is that he has the contact information for other coaches. If so, I have a hard time seeing him agreeing to switch to Pyramidal when the whole league is essentially his brainchild. I doubt the folks at Wootton remember (nor will I claim to be the reason they started attending tournaments,) but my team and I tried to explain what pyramidal quizbowl was and how it differed from MABL and It's Ac to both all the teams we played at MABL. We also explicitly invited them to attend future pyramidal tournaments at RM and around the circuit. Most refused to even listen to me, and I think a big factor here is coaches. Most coaches stopped listening to me once I told them pyramidal tournaments occurred on Saturdays - they're not interested in giving up their free time on a weekend. I've always had some ideas for how to improve Maryland quizbowl (if you're interested in hearing a few Anson, feel free to DM me,) but I don't believe that attempting to achieve change through MABL is the best way to go about this.
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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by apatra » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:12 pm

Hi guys so I just want to discuss Wootton a bit here. I am a current sophomore, who will be taking over as captain next year. This year we started off trying to be involved a bit more in pyramidial quiz bowl but we have struggled a bit with our sponsor not willing to let us go to tournaments where he could not on Saturdays. For next year I hope we can definitely attend more than 1 pyramidal tournament. At the same time, our club has traditionally valued It's Ac and MABL formats because of our long involvement with them. In fact, as a freshman, I did not really know of quiz bowl beyond those two areas. I am definitely open to be more involved in pyramidal quiz bowl and we have been taking steps to slowly by taking part in more Saturday tournaments this year than in the past(RM Novice, MD Fall, NHBB regional and nationals). Our club has tried to attend multiple other tournaments thsi year but being a smaller quiz bowl club we have been unable to field teams. For many MoCo schools, quiz bowl clubs are not as large as they are at Blair and RM from what I have seen. We would definitely appreciate any help in getting more involved in pyramidal quiz bowl and growing in quiz bowl and hope to see Maryland/MoCo quiz bowl grow!

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Re: MABL, It's Ac, and the DC circuit

Post by atooloftheboss » Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:53 pm

ansonberns wrote:Churchill (whose program seems to be kind of dying with the most recent graduating classes)
I'm glad you have insights to share about my program, Anson, but please make an attempt to contact me before you make unfounded statements. Although the program may have been larger in the past, former teams participated almost exclusively in MABL and It's Ac. You'll notice that Churchill has participated in at least 8 pyramidal tournaments over the past two years, two of which were HSNCT 2017 and PACE 2018. Churchill quizbowl may have been defined by speed for most of its existence, but our former captain and president made a conscious effort to include us in pyramidal tournaments, something I plan on continuing and expanding. Our program may be small, but that is due largely to the nature of our school, and is a problem I hope to address this year. I'd also like to express my concern with the decline of many programs in the Montgomery County circuit, as Naveed pointed out.
ansonberns wrote:...in all honesty, I have little idea how the Centennial tournament is able to get a field essentially 3 times larger than any other tournament in the area can.
The Centennial tournament runs on NAQT IS, which is certainly easier and more accommodating for teams accustomed to MABL and It's Academic. That, along with Dr. Seifter's involvement and organization of a large program, seem to contribute significantly to participation. Similarly, JHU's IS tournaments draw 20+ teams. I fully support the idea of committing to and establishing an "alliance" to include more teams more consistently in pyramidal.

One contention I'd like to make is that MABL does not seem to be the avenue to better quizbowl. As far as I know, the Rockville coach commands the logistics and all question writing for MABL, (as Alek mentioned) so changing the format would be entirely at his discretion. If MABL were to shift to better questions, it would be in even more direct competition with NAQT/mACF/housewrites. MABL already serves as competition to those formats; you'll notice that a large number of schools that participate in MABL are entirely absent at pyramidal tournaments. MABL's reach almost directly harms the prospect of including more schools in pyramidal. I'm not sure what the solution to MABL is. It's existed for more than 20 years, convenient, adequately run for schools to participate in, and it manages to provide the "supplement" to It's Ac in the area, as opposed to tournaments. I personally dislike MABL and see it serving little purpose in promoting better quizbowl in Maryland, but it's there. Perhaps implementing more regular tournaments in Maryland and establishing something akin to GPQB.
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