My daughter Ruthie experienced emotions at Bible Bowl 2008 that ranged from despondency to delight, and we who joined her (with her brother and teammate, Joe) for the five days of competition all got to experience those same highs and lows with her. It was quite a dramatic week that started with great difficulty.
I’ll get to the story in a bit, but first here’s a little background. Bible Bowl is a competition similar to the now-defunct College Bowl or Quiz Bowl, but with subject matter taken from selected books of the Bible. This year the text was the Gospel of John as well as his epistles (1 John, 2 John, 3 John) and 1 Peter and 2 Peter. The strongest players have memorized and can recite the entire text (1,178 verses). More demonstration of that in a bit.
Bible Bowl is sponsored by the Church of Christ, and during the school year there are monthly regional “round robin” contests that cover a portion of the text and help the players get familiar with how the game is played. Then, during June several of the denomination’s colleges host preliminary competitions. These provide the first extended opportunity for teams from around the country to play head-to-head against each other, and help sort teams into “pods” for the round robin play at the national tournament.
How the game is played. In round robin play, games last 14 minutes or until 15 “toss-up” questions have been asked, whichever comes first. When a toss-up question is read, the first player to hit the buzzer locks the other team out and has the opportunity to answer. This makes memorizing the text a significant advantage, and particularly knowing which words are used only once or twice in the entire text, so players can buzz early. If they buzz and answer incorrectly (which is called “bouncing”) the remainder of the question is read for the other team. Answering a toss-up correctly earns the team 10 points and the opportunity to answer bonus questions for 20 to 40 additional points. There are a total of 600 points available in round robin games, and usually if a team wins 8 of the toss-ups they will get the 300 points they need to win, but it is possible to get more toss-ups and still lose if you fail to get all of the bonus points or if you get all of the 20-point bonuses while the opponent gets the 40-pointers.
Round robin play “seeds” the teams for the double elimination tournament. These games are played in brackets like the College World Series and have 20 toss-ups in two 10-minute halves. If you lose a game you go to the one-loss bracket and keep playing until you lose again.
As this year’s competition began, there were 112 teams sorted into 12-team pods for round robin. Because our Austin, Minn. team had finished fifth once and third twice, and had won the final college tournament (at Johnson Bible College), they were placed in the top pod, which meant that they could get no worse than the 12th seed for double elimination.
This is where the despondency started on Tuesday morning, as Ruth’s team lost their first three games by 8 toss-ups to 7. After a couple of wider losses, she regathered her composure and played two more tough games, losing both 8-7. So Tuesday she went 0-7, but we told her Wednesday was a new day, and besides, everyone starts with a clean slate for the double elim.
Wednesday wasn’t appreciably better, as Ruthie and Joe’s team lost their remaining round robin games to finish with a record of 0-11 and a firm grip on the 12th seed, although she lost 7 of the 11 games by a single toss-up. In the afternoon, though, she started her comeback through the Quote Bee. I’ve written about this competition previously, and it’s frankly amazing. It’s one thing to memorize a long passage (and quite impressive in its own right), but to pull out a single verse by its reference (e.g. John 15:19) and quote it verbatim is astonishing to me.
Ruthie made it through the first six rounds, and then missed in the seventh.
Thursday morning started the double elim, and Ruthie’s team won a shaky second-round game after their first-round bye, but in her next game Ruthie bounced six toss-ups to the other team and lost by one question. That sent them to the one-loss bracket, where Ruthie started a great run. They won two games Thursday afternoon to earn a spot in the top 24, and then won 4 straight Friday morning before losing a tough one by a 345-280 score. In the fifth-place game Austin beat the Valley View, TX team 515-230. Later that day, Ruthie and Joe (and teammates Billy and JImmy Blanshan) received their medals:
Bible Bowl also has an individual achievement test which the players took on Monday evening, before the start of the team competition. It’s an extremely difficult 400-point test, and the margin between first place and fifth was just two points, from 371 to 369. Ruthie was third at 370, having tied for second but losing the tie-breaker. Last year she tied for first, but took second based on the tie-breaker.
Congratulations to the Southeast Christian Church (Louisville, KY) team on its national title, and to Christian Kelley of the Southeast team for his first place on the individual test. One of the things Lisa and I appreciate about Bible Bowl is the strong friendships the kids make through the college tournaments, and Christian is one of Ruthie’s best friends. We also got to spend a lot of time with his parents, Rick and April, this week, so we were happy for the Southeast team.
That’s the other thing we appreciate about the Bible Bowl competition: Everyone works hard and plays to win, but is genuinely happy for the other team’s success. And when Ruthie was going through her 0-11 start, the encouragement she got from other teams and coaches meant a lot. They were happy to be winning, but kept telling her she would be fine once she got to the double elim.
We were proud of how Ruthie responded to adversity, even though there were tears of frustration as she was a little bit off her game early in the week. When you’re playing among the top dozen teams in the nation in any competition, if you’re not at your absolute best it’s going to be a tough road. We were glad she persevered and made the top 5, which was in keeping with what she had accomplished in the June college tournaments.
We also enjoyed having my parents join us for this family vacation to Atlanta, and that they got to see Ruthie at her best much as they have seen her sister Rebekah in her volleyball and basketball competitions.
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for indulging your Chancellor in this personal aside to our regular coursework, and I hope you have found it interesting. I’m back to work at my real job tomorrow, and plan to be finishing the 100 level courses in the Podcasting curriculum in the next few evenings. Meanwhile, this has been an example of how you can use social media to tell your story and document your family vacations for posterity.