When the Central High School Scholar Bowl team pulled into town after claiming the Missouri 4A Academic Competition championship in Columbia, Mo., the school was dark and the parking lot was empty.
Coach Pete Frazier said maybe it was because their van wasn't full of all-star football players or because it just happened to be prom night.
Either way, the champions didn't mind.
The trophy they carried off the bus was worth more to them than a parking lot full of screaming fans welcoming them home.
For the past seven years the Missouri State High School Activities Association -- the same entity that sponsors high school athletics like football and basketball -- has sponsored the state academic competition.
But even though it is sponsored by MSHSAA, it doesn't mean it gets the same attention as the sports.
"This is a challenge and it should be recognized," said Frazier, who teaches social studies. "The sports haven't won anything in state yet this year and they didn't win last year either. We won. That elevates the status of it."
Codey Williams, a junior on the team, said the academic team isn't as popular as the other MSHSAA activities because it doesn't come with all the glory or popularity associated with being a jock.
"People just write us off as being dorks," he said. "They don't realize a lot of us are involved in other things, too."
Having a good time
Williams said he doesn't mind not being the most popular student in school because he has fun on the team, and that's all that matters.
Teammate Colin McLain agrees.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously," McLain said "It's just fun. We have a good time."
His mother, Judy McLain, said it's an opportunity, too.
"We've already found out it is a benefit for college applications," she said. "It opens up avenues and it rewards those kids who chose it as an outlet. They see that it's OK to be smart."
Frazier said the team is open to any student at Central who wants to participate.
Freshman and sophomores play on the junior varsity team and upperclassmen play on the varsity team. Last year only about 12 students participated on both teams combined. This year 20 students practiced with the team, and 14 -- six on junior varsity and eight on varsity -- competed.
The junior varsity team competed in two tournaments and took first place at both. The varsity team competed in three regular season tournaments, districts and state.
Three times to state
The Central Scholar Bowl team has been to the state competition three times in the past seven years. Last year it took fifth place, and this year it came back from an 0-2 deficit in the first round to take the title.
"It was like having two outs and being down by 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth and coming back to tie the game," said Frazier, who coached softball at Sikeston High School before coming to Central. "It took a lot for those kids to bounce back from 0-2, but it was a whole new ball game in the final four."
Senior Luke Van Cleve said he didn't think the team would make it to the finals after the two losses.
"We lost last year as 2-1, and we got in as 1-2 this year," Van Cleve said. "It was pretty cool."
The reason the team was able to advance to the finals with a 1-2 record was because there was a five-way tie with teams with 1-2 records, and Central had the highest average score of those teams.
The state tournament, and all of the other tournaments throughout the year, operate like a TV game show.
Williams said it is like training for team Jeopardy.
Two teams of four students compete against one another to answer questions about everything from math and movies to poetry and political science.
During the first and third quarters, a moderator asks 15 tossup questions worth 10 points each, and any member of either team can buzz in and answer the question at any time.
During the second and fourth quarters, the moderator asks 10 tossup questions worth 10 points each. Every time a correct answer is given, the team who gave the answer has an opportunity to win more points by answering bonus questions.
There are four bonus questions worth five points each. If the team answers the question correctly, it moves onto the next bonus question. If it gets the answer wrong, the opposing team has a chance to steal the points by providing the correct answer.
During each half, the teams get a 30-second timeout, which is usually used to substitute players, and a 60-second timeout, which is usually used to confer with the coach.
When the game is finished, the point totals are added, and the team with the most points wins.
Frazier said the team is finished with practices for the year, but when school starts in the fall it will resume weekly practices in hopes of successfully defending its state title next spring.
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