Two Mexico High School Academic Team members — one who enjoys political activism and another who has hopes of becoming a video game developer — recently qualified for the National Academic Quiz Tournaments Individual Player National Competition.
Despite their individual successes, senior Hazen Blair and junior Logan Jones, may not compete in the national contest, because it falls on the same weekend as the district team competition, and the Mexico team is their first priority.
"We have to support our team before we can support ourselves. Our team comes first because, as a team, we function a lot better," Blair said. "I was appalled that I qualified for (the national competition). I'm used to getting into the Top 10 scorers, but I didn't think that would transmit anywhere."
Blair and Jones' qualification for the national competition likely is a first for the school, wrote district PR Coordinator Marci Minor in an email to The Ledger.
Jones didn't expect to qualify either, but that was because he wasn't aware of the national individual tournament, he said. "I wasn't too terribly surprised, because I know I have been doing fairly well," he said.
The team will host its third annual Bulldog Regional Interscholastic Challenge, also known as BRIC as a nod to Mexico's brick factory heritage, March 16. The school will host 14 teams.
The high school team will host the district tournament April 6. Winning the district tournament would be another first for the school, though the team has qualified for other national tournaments the past three years.
If Mexico wins districts, it will host the sectional tournament the following weekend, Minor wrote.
Blair and Jones like the quiz format, because it works more like a game show with team members buzzing in to answer questions from a variety of topics, such as literature, history, sports and more.
"I think that was the turning point was that I had fun with it," Blair said. "It's wasn't just something that bogged down my brain."
The big difference for Blair is having a team, he said. "We all become a family at a point since we get along well," Blair said, adding another cousin, Tristan Jones, also is a team member. "We get along well and that's one of the key factors in getting further and further into (competitions)."
For some questions, the team is quick on the buzzer, Logan Jones said, but for others they still need to improve. "We'll take a look at what we have been missing in practices and basically our coach will mark down the questions we're missing and then have us study those topics before a tournament," he said.
The team will use a program called Quizlets as a means to practice along with studying previous season competition materials, Blair said.
Blair said excelling in class has led to success in competition.
"I've been doing a lot of engineering classes and, with that, I've learned how to do computation rather quickly, which translates well to conference-level brackets because there is a lot of computation in those," Blair said.
Jones is an active video game player and is working to translate that passion into a career. He plans to attend the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington, to obtain a degree in video game development.
"The most intriguing part of trying to figure out what I'm going to do in college is definitely picking a minor, though," Jones said. "I definitely know I want to go into computer science, but I don't necessarily know what else I might end up picking up on there."
Blair is considering the University of Missouri or Stanford, where he'll seek a degree in nuclear engineering and possibly minor in political science due to active involvement in political activism. He is a member of Our Revolution Mid-Missouri, which supports progressive candidates, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
"I've been mainly broadening the Democratic party. I've done some work with the women's march, March for our Lives and Black Lives Matter, and that's been a large part of my investigation into current events, which comes in really handy in quiz bowl," Blair said.
While the competition covers a wide range of topics, there are team members with specific areas of focus. Blair's main area is literature, while Jones usually takes the questions on Greek and Norse mythology and other ancient religions.
Jones can always be relied upon to bring levity to a competition setting, which can help release the tension and nerves in both competing teams, Blair said. "I constantly answer with Dr. Seuss on any literature questions where we don't necessarily have an author that any of us can think of on the team that we're divided into," Jones said. "It's good fun."
Dr. Seuss is an outlier answer and will usually only come up once in a competition, Blair said, so using him as an answer makes everyone laugh, take a breath and relax.
MHS math department chair Dale Schenewerk has been the team's head coach for the past six seasons. He said coaching the team wasn't initially in his career plan, but since becoming the coach, he has fallen in love with the game.
"I was learning on the fly the first couple years, but I seem to have a pretty good idea now of what it takes to succeed," he said. "We started off going to tournaments and we might win a game, ... (and) now we're the team that expects to go in and win."
It has been a transformative experience for the team to take these incremental steps to improve year after year, Schenewerk said. The team is comprised of 11 members on an "A" squad and "B" squad. The separation isn't based on academic aptitude, but if they are upper or underclassmen.
"We've always had strong individuals. ... You look at the depth that we have, you know. We can only play four at a time and carry usually six to seven in any given tournament," Schenewerk said.
Luckily for the team, underclassmen are ready to step up as leaders as upperclassmen graduate, he said.
"One of the wonderful thing I've noticed this year of all years is that our freshman coming into it are really killing it this year. ... My freshman year, I was not even competitive with these guys. Our 'B' team can be a force to be reckoned with, even with our 'A' team is a bunch of varsity members," Blair said.