OURAY – They call themselves the A-Team for a reason. Ever since their freshman year, they’ve been crushing schools across the state in a battle of the brains known as Knowledge Bowl.
This year, for the first time, the brainy bunch consisting of Patrick Link, Nicholas Pieper, Daniel Degenhardt and newcomer Julia Vann remained undefeated throughout the entire season and brought back a First Place trophy from the State Knowledge Bowl tournament held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs two weeks ago.
Here, they bested 48 teams – competing mostly against much larger 3A through 5A schools – to bring home the coveted title.
To scale these intellectual heights, the A-team had to tackle a total of over 500 general knowledge questions over the course of the two-day tournament.
Some schools – such as the top-ranked Grand Junction and Fossil Ridge – take their Knowledge Bowl very seriously indeed, with whole class periods devoted to the subject every day.
Such teams are rather nonplussed by the relaxed demeanor, and wacky sense of humor, that Ouray’s A-Team brings to the table. No suits. Not even lucky hats. Just some pretty awesome collective brain power, and the confidence to wing it, if they think they know the answer.
Knowledge Bowl practice at Ouray School happens just once a week on Wednesday afternoons throughout the school year, during which Coach Eric Fagrelius (aka Mr. F) drills the team through practice rounds, with questions that are generated by a computer program.
The practice seems to help. “It’s really unlikely you will see a question from a practice round during a competition, but you might find something similar,” Link explained.
A lot of the A-Team’s dominance comes from their collective willingness to go out on a limb and ring the buzzer before the entire question has been read, thus earning them the opportunity to have the first chance at answering the question and earning the point.
Once one of the team members buzzes in, they communicate with each other using hand signals to determine who has the best chance of answering the question correctly.
Five fingers means you are “100 percent positive” that you’ve got the right answer. One finger means you have a “joke answer.”
“But there were a number of times at State where we were totally sure, and we were totally wrong,” Link admitted.
Conversely, it was not uncommon for someone’s “joke answer” to turn out to be correct.
“You have to forgive your teammates quickly and you have to forgive yourself too,” Fagrelius reflected.
The A-Team is a well-balanced bunch. Link and Pieper are good at math. Degenhardt is the science whiz, and Vann is particularly skilled at grammar.
Link, Degenhardt and Pieper, all seniors (Link and Pieper both having skipped a year) have been competing together in Knowledge Bowl throughout their high school careers and have made it to State every year. Vann, a sophomore, just got promoted to the A-team this year.
Since the three boys are all graduating, it will be up to the next batch of brains, coming up among the OHS underclassmen, to continue Ouray School’s dominance in the sport. “Most of them are still pretty timid,” Degenhardt observed of the bunch. “They are still afraid of getting questions wrong, and a lot of them are too scared to answer. You have to be good at guessing.”
Mr. F is pretty sure that they’ll get there, though. It’s a Ouray tradition, after all.
One of the reasons the Ouray School seems to do so well in the sport of Knowledge Bowl is that the school has successfully cultivated a culture where smart equals cool.
“We don’t get as much crap,” the guys explained. “There’s a stigma about Knowledge Bowl in other schools. Here, it’s cool. We are the least nerdy team in our region. We have really cool people who are smart, too.”
But if you really want to know the A-Team’s secret to success, it’s that “We mostly did Knowledge Bowl because it’s tons and tons of fun,” the guys admitted. “We go there and we are like playing hacky-sack or whatever, and the kids from other schools sit there and study in between rounds.”
Even though the majority of the A-Team is graduating this year, the future continues to look very bright ... literally ... for Ouray School’s dominance in the sport. The school fielded six teams this year at San Miguel Power Association’s Power of Knowledge tournament in Nucla in March – an event which is open to elementary, middle school and high school students from throughout the region. “We ended up first and third in the elementary division, and first in the secondary division,” Fagrelius said. And that was without three of the four top players from the current A-Team, who were unable to attend the meet.
“It will be fun to start with a new A-Team next year, and see how we do,” Fagrelius said. “I think we will be good.”