Members of Fillmore Central High School’s Knowledge Bowl team received a trophy and medals for its first place performance at the recent regional competition at the Southeast Service Cooperative on March 21. The top two teams that day advanced to the state competition which will be held in Brainerd on April 11 and 12. Members of the team, from left, are Gwen Petrillo, Zachary Case, Alexander Johnson, Nathaniel Harrison, Kirby O’Connor and advisor Brad Holten.  PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Members of Fillmore Central High School’s Knowledge Bowl team received a trophy and medals for its first place performance at the recent regional competition at the Southeast Service Cooperative on March 21. The top two teams that day advanced to the state competition which will be held in Brainerd on April 11 and 12. Members of the team, from left, are Gwen Petrillo, Zachary Case, Alexander Johnson, Nathaniel Harrison, Kirby O’Connor and advisor Brad Holten. PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
You have to be quick, decisive and a team player. Competition can be intense and victory is determined by milliseconds and only a few points. Only a handful of students in every high school compete in this activity and even fewer are good enough to go to the state competition.

This year, however, five Fillmore Central students have proven themselves as top contenders in the activity known as Knowledge Bowl and will be traveling to Brainerd on April 11 for the State Knowledge Bowl Meet. The team includes Gwen Petrillo, Zachary Case, Alexander Johnson, Nathaniel Harrison and Kirby O'Connor. Their advisor is Brad Holten.

Knowledge Bowl is an academic extra-curricular activity present throughout Minnesota and the surrounding Midwestern states. Teams consisting of four or five students compete in multiple rounds of answering trivia questions. Competition begins with a multiple choice test that each team takes and works on in their group. The test has 60 questions and good teams are usually able to separate themselves right away from weaker teams through this first process. The test also provides a team with an opportunity to get on the same wavelength without any outside distraction.

After the test, the teams are placed into rooms based on their scores. It benefits a team to place into a higher room since there is a scaled bonus point system for teams in rooms with other higher scoring teams. These rooms hold what are known as oral rounds. Teams are asked a question and individuals must "buzz in" by pressing an electronic strip and provide a correct answer to receive a point. Again, team members can work together to come up with an answer.

There are 45 questions per round and typically three oral rounds throughout the day. At regional and state competitions there are five oral rounds. The competition usually lasts most of the day. Regular season competitions occur once a month from Dec. through Feb. with sub-regional and regional competitions occurring in Mar. Despite the mental rigor each competition brings, the Fillmore Central team has been able to thrive and build state-worthy team while they are at it.

"The team chemistry is amazing right now," shared senior team member Alexander Johnson.

Fillmore Central actually puts together three competing teams every year and names them after their school colors: teal, silver and black. Team Black is typically the strongest of all three teams and this is the team headed to state.

According to advisor Brad Holten, this is the first team he has ever sent to the state competition. "We missed state in 2008 by half a point," he recalled. "This team has peaked at exactly the right time."

As Johnson pointed out, having great communication and chemistry is a must for Knowledge Bowl. After buzzing in, teams only get 15 seconds to answer. Team Black uses a sheet of paper to write down possible answers.

"We don't talk at all so that the other teams in the room can't hear us," shared senior member Zachary Case. There is a method to Team Black's madness and most of them have had plenty of experience to back it up.

Four of the five students are seniors and three of them have five year of knowledge bowl experience. None have fewer than three years of experience.

Kirby O'Connor, who is the lone junior, shared that despite the years of experience, this year's team had never before competed with each other until the current team was assembled for the third meet of the year.

"We did really well and felt good coming out of the meet," said O'Connor.

Case added, "We knew we could roll with the big teams."

The rise to the top has been steady and sure throughout the year. Beginning in December, at their first meet held at the Southeast Service Cooperative in Rochester, Team Black placed first out of 17 teams and won by 15 points; a blowout by Knowledge Bowl standards.

Since Fillmore Central is a small school, they compete in the Class A tier which has around 62 teams participating in the Southeast region. The other tier, Class AA, has 44 teams competing and includes bigger schools. Team Black held the eighth best score in the region and the fourth best score in Class A.

By the end of the third round robin meet in February, Team Black had maintained their Class A ranking and only fell one place in the overall rankings. They had already competed with some of the top teams in the region and had held their ground. It wasn't always easy.

"We're terrible during the first 15 questions," shared O'Connor. "Once we get over our nerves, then we are usually free sailing."

The entire team said their improved written round scores have really helped them.

"We also have a great coach," stated Case.

Holten and the Fillmore Central teams hold early morning practices every week. In preparation for the state meet, the team will start to meet several times per week.

On an individual basis, the team members have various methods of filling their heads with Knowledge Bowl information. They cited quiz sites such as Sporcle and education sites such as Khan Academy, and informative channels on television as their main sources of random information.

Harrison claimed that getting lots of sleep also helps retain information.

"We all have a general knowledge that we keep adding to," shared Case.

Questions during competitions range from American History to Literature and from Current Events to Biology. Members on Team Black said they have pretty good memories.

"We don't second guess ourselves. We just go with our gut feeling," shared Johnson. "We agree on just about everything."

The team is very serious when it come to competition, but before entering the round, you wouldn't be able to tell.

"We joke around before a round, but we buckle down and really focus in," said Case.

Another secret to their success is their ability to withstand tough times. "We don't take it too hard when we miss a question. We just get on with it. We're confident," shared Johnson.

Chatfield is the other Class A team headed to state, and they have been Team Black's rivals throughout the year. In the sub-regional meet on March 19, Team Black was edged by Chatfield by 4.5 points. Fillmore Central also bowed to them in the Three Rivers Conference championship, which is a separate Knowledge Bowl competition. However, Team Black exacted revenge on March 21 by beating them by 4.5 points in the regional competition.

Winning a trip to the state competition also meant that the senior members on the team would have to decide whether or not to leave their senior class trip early. The annual trip out to Washington, D.C., and New York City is a privilege earned through fundraising efforts throughout the year.

Despite this, the team has decided to go home early in order to make the Knowledge Bowl meet. For Case, the decision was easy. "I can go and see New York City some other time in my life, but I'm never going to be able to make another state tournament in Knowledge Bowl."

Johnson said his parents actually expected him to leave the trip early. The three seniors who will leave the trip early will miss seeing New York City, but they will be around for the bulk of the trip.

The team has received a lot of support from people they didn't even think knew about Knowledge Bowl, which has boosted their confidence heading to state.

Case spoke for the team and voiced their confidence, saying, "We ain't scared. We're going to win state!"