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New Champions Crowned at Mira Costa's Scholar Quiz

Mar 30, 2023 10:36PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Mira Costa Scholar Quiz 2023 champions, from left: The winning team of Keith Daniels, Caden Coons, Akash Mishra, Devan Malik; MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes and Mira Costa Principal Karina Gerger; and the runner-up team of Ethan Harrison, Kyle Fukumoto, Jacob Tan, and Dylan Iskandar. Photo credit: John Dargan.

The annual Mira Costa Scholar Quiz - a hotly contested, rapid-fire trivia quiz game - crowned its newest four-person champion team on Thursday.

Juniors Devan Malik, Akash Mishra, Caden Coons, and Keith Daniels triumphed with a final score of 195-105 over the team of seniors Dylan Iskandar, Kyle Fukumoto, Jacob Tan, and Ethan Harrison.

When asked if they were coming back next year, the victorious juniors looked at each other and grinned. "For sure - That's the plan," said Malik.

Besides receiving the Sean Barnes Memorial Trophy, the winners earned commemorative plaques and a prize of $50 each. The second place team received plaques and a prize of $30 each.

The members of two other semi-finalist teams also received plaques and $20 each. Those teams were made up of Cohen Forier, Alex Ea, Jack Bradley, and Ryan Kim; as well as Alexander Bindler, Dylan Feakins, Miles Campbell, and Goose Faysnod.

"The 'Academic Super Bowl'"

Overall, 64 teams comprising of four students each (256 students in all) had participated in the week-long tournament over six rounds.

The Mira Costa PTSA sponsored the plaques and cash prizes, along with providing lunches to the teachers whose classrooms were used for the earlier days of the competition and supplying volunteers to run the competitions.

Study Hut provided all of the questions for the Scholar Quiz tournament and donated Scholar Quiz commemorative T-shirts for all of the student participants in the competition. Study Hut co-founders and co-owners Rob Stone and Sean-Patrick Burke are Mira Costa and Scholar Quiz alums.

"I was a participant, and now to come full circle - to be a question writer and provide the shirts and sponsor it - it's really special," Stone told MB News. "It's an awesome opportunity and it's our favorite tournament all year long. It's the academic Super Bowl."

Questions Dig Deep into Trivia Vault

Thursday's final battle took place in Mira Costa's auditorium, which was packed with enthusiastic parents and students. Many students came with signs to cheer on their favorite team.

The questions covered a wide range of subject areas including literature, science, math, art, geography, history, and culture. (A sample of answers to questions included "quantum physics," "the Underground Railroad," "thyroid gland," "Boss Tweed," "Compton scattering," and multiple varieties of French cheese.).

One "lightning round" category (a set of ten questions) named a list of countries that shared only one border with another country - and contestants had to name that border country. Mishra impressed the crowd with his rapid-fire geography knowledge. ("Brunei?" Mishra: "Malaysia." "East Timor?" Mishra: "Indonesia.")

But another lightning-round category that asked for the artists of 19th-century paintings mostly stumped both teams. 

When the last painting in that round - "Napoleon Crossing the Alps" - got a correct response ("Jacques-Louis David") from Ethan Harrison, he drew a round of appreciative "ooohs" from the audience.

Study Hut co-founders Stone and Burke said that those kinds of category-based lightning round questions were a matter of luck, depending on what people on each team know. 

"You don't always know the strength of the teams when you're writing the questions," said Stone. "There are some teams when one person can nail all ten of them. But if the topic is, say, authors, and if you don't have a literary person, you're going to be coming up empty."

Stone added that the Study Hut trivia writers (who write for both the MBMS and Mira Costa Scholar Quiz competitions) intentionally create easier questions for the early rounds, building up to the hardest questions for the finale. 

"We try to create kind of a crescendo so the earlier rounds have an opportunity to answer. So the middle school early round questions are the easiest questions, and they progressively get harder," Stone said. "We tailor the questions to the rounds and the schools."

Burke noted that the trivia writers also have to account for many different question-readers during the early rounds. 

"When you've got 32 readers in the first round, you have to play to the idea that not all of the readers are super well-versed or experienced in scholar quiz," said Burke. "A question with tough chemistry words could end up being a bad question because half the readers don't know how to pronounce the words. So we kind of cater that a little bit too."

A Massive Volunteer Effort

Producing the Scholar Quiz requires a massive volunteer effort.

This year's Scholar Quiz was led by four co-directors: Janet and John Dargan, Brandi Greenberg, and Laura Mueller. Lara Protiva and Pip Coyne served as the PTSA board representatives for the project.

For the final event, Mira Costa Principal Karina Gerger served as Master of Ceremonies, while the reader was MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes (who is reportedly a huge Jeopardy fan). Mira Costa Vice Principal Amanda Vavao served as flag judge. Scorers were MBUSD's Heather Hoffman, along with Mira Costa PTSA President Heather de Roos and former PTSA co-president Andrea Hynes.

Throughout the past week, multiple parents, teachers, staff, and community members have volunteered as readers, scorers, and flag judges, as well as coordinating other aspects of the competition. All told, it took approximately 175 volunteers to bring the event to fruition.

A Longtime Mira Costa Tradition

Mira Costa's Scholar Quiz is a beloved tradition that dates back to the 1980s. 

The “original 5” who launched the annual tournament included Bill Fauver, a history and government teacher, counselor Denise Anderson, former principal Gary Hartzell, social studies teacher Jerry Quigley, and social studies teacher Jim Ruderman.

Fauver, who participated in the Quiz Bowl at UCLA, first introduced the idea of bringing the event to Costa to Hartzell. The "original 5" then met at the old IHOP in Hermosa Beach in 1986 to develop the competition. 

Fauver ran the competition in collaboration with Mira Costa's PTSA for the next 13 years until 1999, and then handed the reins over to Steve Singiser, a current social studies teacher who is a Costa alum and was a member of a winning Scholar Quiz team.

The Mira Costa PTSA has supported the competition through the years, working first alongside a previous sponsor, Body Glove, and now with Study Hut.

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