Alex Wallace's big career retrospective

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SpanishSpy
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Alex Wallace's big career retrospective

Post by SpanishSpy » Mon Jul 08, 2019 10:49 pm

My name is Alex Wallace. I am from Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. I am the child of a white father and a Filipina mother. I attended Washington-Lee High School and played on their team for three years, and was the captain my senior year. I then played for four years at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. You may know me from the three strange trash packets I wrote some years ago. This is my quizbowl story.

I did Knowledge Masters in sixth and seventh grade at Kenmore Middle School, but didn't do it eighth grade as I was preoccupied with being the student council president. In high school, I joined the academic team sophomore year on the advice of an older friend on the team.

Looking back, it's clear to me now that Washington-Lee (soon to be renamed Washington-Liberty) was a quizbowl backwater in an otherwise prosperous quizbowl region. We went to two or three tournaments per year at maximum, plus It's Academic. Unlike many other in the quizbowl community I feel that appearing on that show helped my club by giving it publicity, as well as name recognition in the context of Washington-Lee as a whole; I'd imagine there are similar benefits to other clubs in the beltway that do similar.

My senior year I was the Washington-Lee captain; truth be told, I wasn't a good one. I was an angry, bitter 18 year old who was never able to get enough interest among my club to go to any tournament except an It's Academic match. I was nose to the grindstone with the college application process and an overbearing (to say the very least) mother and a distant father. We did do one general-interest trivia competition at the very end of the academic year, but that was it.

Then I went off to Williamsburg with a very strong desire to get out from under my parents' thumb. Truth be told, upon arriving there in my dorm for the first time I didn't really expect to become as invested in quizbowl as I did. What I was expecting was a very strong involvement in college Model United Nations. However, I never really fit in with the William & Mary organization; I ended up becoming a thorn in their side after I blew the whistle on unethical practices and was denied good positions at conferences, and didn't drink alcohol, which made the divide ever wider. After three years in their club, I decided not to do anything with them senior year.

But I did join quizbowl freshman year, almost as an afterthought. It was at a booth in the main hall of the Kaplan Arena I met Sean Smiley, William & Mary's stalwart captain. I was one of two freshman that joined that year, and as luck would have it, the only one who would stay all four years.

Being on that team was like being a mouse among titans. Sean Smiley and the other older members of the team were a bunch of extremely talented players; I was regularly feeling as if I was small-minded around them, seeing them regularly power on things that I had never heard of. I played at two tournaments that year, one each at UNC and VCU, and did well at neither.

Then all but three of us left; sophomore year was a year of rebuilding under the illustrious James Cole, our captain for the next two years. It was sophomore year that I met the people who would really begin to overhaul the club, perhaps the most influential being our future captain Katie Brownfiel. It was Katie's idea to have a social chair position, and it was in that capacity she really began to turn the club from what it was in the Smiley years into what it became by the time I left. During the Smiley years, the club was all male, and small. During the Cole and Brownfiel years, it doubled if not tripled in size, and became at least for a time majority women. It was a transformation that I was amazed by, and was glad to see.

The single greatest accomplishment of the Cole-era club was the writing and hosting of the first James Blair Bowl. Even during the Smiley years there had been some talk of hosting a tournament, but it was under Cole we actually did it. I wrote a lot for that first tournament; my output declined the subsequent years, but I was still moderating at those, too. It was the James Blair Bowl that put our club on the map and changed us from a mere hobbyist's club into an institution. As an aside, I might have been the person to coin the name 'James Blair Bowl' (after the founder of the College) but my memory is hazy.

It was sophomore year when I joined the forums and began to realize how much of a community existed around quizbowl. Frankly, I was barely aware of the whole base of organizations that gave quizbowl its livelihood (ACF, NAQT, PACE, etc.) and its great tournaments. I learned of the Chicago Open and of the great teams and the great players and the great stories, and was surprised that there were high schoolers who were very active here. It was then I realized how much I had missed out on.

Sophomore year was also the time of my big mental health meltdown, during which I was forced to confront the fact that what my parents had inflicted upon me for much of my life was actual abuse. Quizbowl became one of my sanctums, and I threw my efforts into writing the first James Blair Bowl as well as my first trash packet. When I was writing that packet, I had written a preface to it in which I expounded upon my reasons for writing it, my love of the community, and the psychological state I was in at the time. I deleted it because, upon a second reading, it read far too much like a suicide note.

That year I played four tournaments, two at UVA, one at Maryland, and one at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Virginia. At that last one the club performed the best that I have ever seen, and I was quite proud of our job at that one in particular. The tournament's handing out of free fried chicken at the end also provided the fodder for a William & Mary meme but I digress.

Junior year was the continuation of the trends of sophomore year, and the club really began to come into its own. We hosted another James Blair Bowl and went to two tournaments. The most important thing that year, though, was how the club's regular social gatherings became a fixture of the club experience, and we truly became a community, and it was one that I loved. We also got some very good scorers, including the club's current president, Akshata Pisharody. We also got a trophy at the SMT at Virginia Tech, which I am currently in possession. We got second place at the entire tournament, which was probably the greatest accomplishment of my career. This was also the year I did some work for NAQT, but that didn't last.

Senior year Katie Brownfiel took the helm of the club and perfected what she had done previously as social chair. We started our bigs and littles program and had even better outreach. We went to two regular tournaments that year, and we sent our first team to nationals since the Smiley years. We also had another James Blair Bowl.

My last tournament was at the SCT at Virginia Tech. Perhaps appropriately, my last answered question was a power on a history tossup (not sure if it's clear or not). And then, as that match ended, I was faced with utter finality of that match, that tournament, that career.

As I said, quizbowl was a refuge from crushing academic pressure my parents had inflicted upon me. It was a place for me to learn things because I wanted to learn things, not because I had to learn them for grades. Quizbowl gave me the capacity to explore intellectual interests for their own sake, or for the sake of the game, and not for something that my mother wanted me to sacrifice everything for. It gave me community, and it gave me many friends whose presence I will forever cherish. They improved my time at the College immeasurably, and they gave me a very sweet departure at the last meeting of my time, and then we played Modern World.

But there is also a degree of regret that I never got to truly become a part of the broader quizbowl community. I only got to know some people from the broader mid-Atlantic circuit, I never got to meet many of the great players, and I never got to attend a national tournament. I always felt adjacent to the community here, not fully of it, but pining to be one of you. It was raw chance that I went to a high school without a competitive program, and to a small, out-of-the-way college with a club with suboptimal funding, and as such raw chance I couldn't ever be one of you. Hopefully, I'll get to go to a Chicago Open in the next few years, but my career is likely over for all intents and purposes.

The future, though, is bright for William & Mary. The club has some of the finest players I've ever seen and a president, Akshata Pisharody, in who I have full confidence. The club has fully recovered from the loss of the departure of the Smiley generation, and it's future is at its brightest. I'm just sad I won't get to see it.

And so it goes.
Last edited by SpanishSpy on Tue Jul 09, 2019 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019

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Re: Alex Wallace's big career retrospective

Post by sadieb328 » Tue Jul 09, 2019 4:04 pm

Alex, I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit for your role in the revitalization of the team. You are and have always been an excellent player who cares deeply for both the game of quizbowl and our team specifically. You were the only person this year who has been with us since the last real era of the team, and therefore your optimism for the future of the team is flattering and deeply appreciated. (And if you search back far enough in our Facebook group, you clearly served as the interim head of the team in your sophomore year.) I know that you and I haven't always gotten along in our personal lives, but I am glad to call you a friend and I'm sure I speak for the entire team when I say that we are very grateful for all you have done for us.
Sadie Britton

Vice President, William & Mary Quizbowl
W&M '20ish

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SpanishSpy
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Re: Alex Wallace's big career retrospective

Post by SpanishSpy » Tue Jul 09, 2019 9:35 pm

sadieb328 wrote:
Tue Jul 09, 2019 4:04 pm
Alex, I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit for your role in the revitalization of the team. You are and have always been an excellent player who cares deeply for both the game of quizbowl and our team specifically. You were the only person this year who has been with us since the last real era of the team, and therefore your optimism for the future of the team is flattering and deeply appreciated. (And if you search back far enough in our Facebook group, you clearly served as the interim head of the team in your sophomore year.) I know that you and I haven't always gotten along in our personal lives, but I am glad to call you a friend and I'm sure I speak for the entire team when I say that we are very grateful for all you have done for us.
That's very kind of you, Sadie, it well and truly is. I wouldn't say I was anything as big as an 'interim head' but I would like to think I did my share, with the Thursday practices and whatnot. Still, James was the captain then, and I respected his role and deferred to his authority. I never really felt like I was really driving the team along; it was the new people whose own commitment did that.

Although, thinking about it more, more and more I feel that if anyone looks back at the W&M Quizbowl story they'd see me, as you say, as an interim figure, a transitory figure. Being the last of the Smiley era really was something that was with me a lot of last year, and in some sense it was a small burden.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019

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