Sometimes the cool-as-cucumbers teens press their buzzers and answer before host Nick Toma can complete…
Brilliance soared into the spotlight Friday night at NIU-Rockford along with an important plea to the teenage wunderkinds in competition there: Rockford needs them to come home after their college degrees are earned.
It was the finale of the first season of the Stateline Quiz Bowl by Bergstrom, a raucous evening of crazy-difficult questions and jaw-dropping correct answers from the previously undefeated teams of Rockford Auburn and Belvidere North high schools.
When the final horn sounded, Auburn claimed victory with a score of 360-290, earning not only a tall trophy but a $40,000 scholarship fund from NIU to assist future Huskies. The university provided an $8,000 scholarship fund to Belvidere North, which also took home a trophy.
“This has created an energy around education and academic achievement and showcased what excellent schools we have in the northern Illinois area. We’re so proud of these students,” Baker said after shaking hands and posing for photographs with both squads.
“I’m also glad that this highlighted NIU and our outstanding programs,” Baker added. “We’d like to attract these students to NIU and then see them come back to Rockford.”
Shaffer spoke of his mission – building the Forest City’s highly educated workforce – first to the television audience watching at home during a pre-game “Road to the Finals” program. Later, he directly addressed all 12 competitors on the stage: “Think about staying in Rockford.”
The Stateline Quiz Bowl blossomed in response to a Transform Rockford plank: to shine a spotlight on providing quality education, thereby improving workforce readiness and providing better opportunities to young people.
(Transform Rockford’s mission is to facilitate the creation and implementation of a strategic plan by the community for the purposes of dramatically improving the social and economic well-being of the community and its residents.)
For the young competitors, however, the order of the night was flexing the muscles in their minds.
The championship began with a correct answer – “taxes,” supplied by Auburn’s Cole Timmerwilke – and ended with another: “Bill Clinton,” courtesy of Belvidere North’s Matt Stites.
In between came a dizzying assault of questions on architecture, computer code, France, geography, government, Greek letters, literature, math, medicine, Morse code, movies, music, poetry, politics, science, U.S. and world history and video games.
Auburn, the reigning state champions in the IHSA Scholastic Bowl, never trailed.
(However, a fun fact: Friday’s victorious Knights failed in their final opportunity to match a feat achieved by the Blue Thunder earlier in the season: answering all 10 “lightning round” questions correctly. Belvidere North was the only team to do so during the entire competition.)
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For Timmerwilke, whose squad ranks No. 4 in the nation and boasts two members named to the all-world team, the televised experience proved “pretty cool.”
Usually, he said, “this is an activity that has not resulted in a lot of fanfare.” However, thanks to the weekly broadcasts, his fellow students were talking about the power of the mind.
Meanwhile, the road to victory wasn’t a cakewalk. “There were some good teams that we had to beat to win,” Timmerwilke said.
Teammate Evan Pandya, a senior, called his time in the spotlight “fun.”
“A lot of kids said they saw me on TV,” he said. “Teachers told me, ‘Good luck!’ ”
Coach Linda Greene, who teaches Spanish at the high school on Rockford’s far west side, cheered the opportunity “to represent our school well to the public.”
Her students gather to practice three times a week, and although the players change each fall as seniors leave and freshmen arrive, Greene is accustomed to watching her seasoned veterans mentor rookies and help build their confidence and motivation to learn.
NIU’s monetary commitment to the winning school was “a wonderful show of support,” she said, “as we raise the profile of this activity we call Quiz Bowl.”
Belvidere North Coach Laura Stites, who teaches at Caledonia Elementary School, also appreciated the attention paid to education.
“Academics are the No. 1 reason we’re in school,” she said, adding that the potential of NIU scholarships is helping to grow her numbers. “After the game finished, I had one student who’s not on the team say he is joining next year.”
Stites also agrees with Pandya: The Stateline Quiz Bowl was “so much fun.”
“There’s a lot of talk at the high school,” she said. “The teachers are giving the kids a hard time, saying, ‘Hey, we covered that,’ or ‘Why didn’t you get that sooner?’ ”
Watching the whole spectacle take place since the Jan. 17 debut was host Nick Toma.
Toma, anchor and reporter at WTVO/WQRF, had never hosted a game show during his 26 years in broadcast news – and he wasn’t initially sure that Stateline Quiz Bowl offered the right way to change that.
“I was a little skeptical,” he said, “but it only took 10 minutes into our first show to realize, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ ”
After months of moderating the “fun and friendly competition,” he’s amazed by how sharp the teens are.
He’s impressed by how well-coached they are, how they’re trained to pick up on clues to the directions his questions are heading. He’s intrigued by their lives away from Quiz Bowl, how some are athletes and others are artists.
He loves to talk about the kid who plays theremin – “Who plays the theremin?” he joked with the NIU-Rockford live audience – and about tiny Paw Paw High School, which didn’t have a Quiz Bowl team but proudly assembled one after an invitation from the game’s organizers.
“These kids are super-smart,” Toma said. “If these are the kids who are going to run our country, we’re going to be in good hands.”
Toma also is grateful for NIU’s sponsorship. “Let’s face it. College isn’t cheap,” he said. “This is money that definitely will come in very handy.”
Friday night also gave Toma a chance to make teens happy.
Once Auburn correctly answered the weekly Giordano’s pizza party question – the answer, for those playing at home, was “The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle” – Toma pretended to receive some “breaking news” in his earpiece.
“Both teams win pizza parties!” he exclaimed. “(Giordano’s) is feeling generous tonight!”