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Introduction

Welcome to Reach Scores!

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This is Reach Scores, a place to find out about, well, “Reach” scores.

Many Canadian high school students played, watched, or otherwise heard of “Reach for the Top”. It began as a CBC television program in the 1960s, left the airwaves, and returned as the classroom-based “SchoolReach”. Lists of alumni and champions are readily available on the web.

But what about scores? Unlike, say, high school sports, scores of Reach games are not easy to find. The Reach for the Top organization publishes results of tournaments they manage (Nationals and some provincial championships), but the pickings are slim for regional or historical results. Every now and then you’ll find a YouTube video or a news archive of a single game from a tournament, but it is often in the context of a school tooting its horn, rather than providing a larger scope of gameplay and competition for a region or time period.

I’d like to change that. I have already uploaded some tournament results on a wiki-style site (use this index of tournaments as a start) for historical interest. People ought to be able to find results without needing to dig through an internet or library archive, and I hope to make it more convenient for them. I will use this blog for updates, including planned recordings of games. I will probably also add analysis (such as my “R-value”) and opinion. Contributions, results or otherwise, are welcome through the contact methods listed on this site.

Thank you for visiting!

2018-19 Preview

Do UTS titles come in pairs?

Welcome to the 2018-19 season! 2018 was a very competitive year with several strong teams and players, and hopefully we’re in for another treat this year. I don’t have all the insights or predictions, but let’s take a look at the different regions of Canada.

British Columbia

I am still mostly in the dark about the west coast. I can rarely notice strong teams from there, yet they can still easily make quarterfinals or higher at Nationals. Last year, those teams gave a scare to the Ontario powerhouses, and if any of them have a good chunk of returning players, they might snap up a semifinal spot or two. The three most frequent competitors are St. George’s, Sir Winston Churchill, and Eric Hamber.

Alberta

The Renert School is the little school that could, pulling off the provincial title last year over Old Scona. Expect these two to be the front-runners again. Old Scona has made it as far as the national semifinals before, while Renert will hope to use their returning talent and crack the quarterfinals after three straight years of consolation runs.

Manitoba

Kelvin HS has carried the banner for Manitoba for several years, and another national playoff run should be in the cards. St. Paul and St. John-Ravenscourt are other regulars, but we may catch a surprise from some of the revived clubs from the CBC championship days (River East or Dakota, for example).

Ontario

Ontario will probably be UTS’ to lose, even after the graduation of talent. They had a strong group of junior players split amongst the “A”, “B”, and “C” teams at independent tournaments, and will surely coalesce into a strong senior squad this year. In London, Central is expected to yet again take the city crown, while Banting is probably going to drop off after their star player’s departure. In Hamilton, Westmount will easily take the city and assemble a good mix of returning players in an attempt to do better than their somewhat premature playoff exit last May. Whether it’s White Oaks, OTHS, Abbey Park, or Assumption, the Halton region will be solid contenders for provincial playoffs again and many of them will be on preview at independent events this year. In Toronto, UTS and Martingrove will continue to be national contenders, while RSGC will be in tough against local competitors after the departure of their cohort that gave four great years of growth. In Ottawa, both Lisgar and Glebe will return the majority of their players – they will surely lock the city finals and could both reach at least the second round of provincial playoffs. For the province on the whole, though, Ontario will probably not be as strong as in 2018. The representatives will all be in the mix for national semifinals, but they could be vulnerable to a strong squad from another province.

Quebec

Quebec is always impossible to predict. A CEGEP will likely claim the provincial title, but CEGEP team composition, by rule, changes every year. It’s hard to preview them during the year as well, because CEGEPs would be excluded from Montreal History Bowl and most events in other provinces.

New Brunswick

This is probably the easiest provincial title to pick. Kennebecasis Valley barely faced any other schools en route to their senior title last year, and while those other schools will have 2018 juniors come up to senior competition, so too will the KV club that picked up several junior division titles along the way. KV will be focusing on the out-of-province events to keep pace for their nationals run.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia was down to five teams last year, and I don’t think the prospects for improvement are very good for 2019. Nova Scotia (and to some extent, New Brunswick) did much better back when Dalhousie ran independent tournaments; now the university takes the role of sponsoring the official SchoolReach tournament with much less publicity and prizes. Any ambitious teams in the province should consider tapping into the New Brunswick “regular season” events that run separate from provincials.

As the season progresses, we’ll get a clearer picture of the contenders. UTS’ event in October and Lisgar’s event in February will be the big results haul. Teams would do well to try to play on these sets, either at the main site or a satellite tournament run in another region. UTS tends to be a good preview for Ontario Provincials, while Lisgar gives the Nationals snapshot (with its incredible coincidence of the runner-up school getting the national title). Not only are these independent events good tournament preparation, but for Ontario teams, the results can help your cause for better pool placements at provincials.

Good luck to all the teams this year, and don’t be too inflated or discouraged by this preview. The year has only just begun, and everything is still to be played for. Have a great season!

Assigned Questions

Time to put you on the spot

I’d like to take a brief look at assigned questions in SchoolReach. This will be my second review of a specialized question, following my post on shootouts.

Assigned questions are a set of eight questions directed individually to each player in the match. Assigned questions began in Top of the Form and were brought over to Reach for the Top upon its establishment (team scrambles and who-am-I questions are the other specialized formats imported from the UK show). Assigned questions have had some variation over the years in how they played – they always begin with a question directed to one player for full value of points, but incorrect responses could lead to the question being dead, an option for a corresponding player on the opposing team to reply for full or half value, or rarely an option to open the question to buzzing. In modern SchoolReach, assigned questions are posed individually in seating order with an opportunity for the facing opponent player to pick up on incorrect answers, with all correct responses being worth 10 points.

Assigned questions represent a little less than 10% of gameplay. They are found in most packs, and usually occur in round 1. Assigned questions are not often the topic of post-game banter and highlights, even though it is the question format with the most points available to a team. I imagine it gets overlooked because each player only needs to listen for two questions, it’s hard to control play for a full 80 points, and round 1 can get overshadowed by impactful buzzes late in the game. Assigned questions are still worth looking at – certainly more than shootouts…

As a person that dabbled in writing a variety of assigned questions, I can say that they are potentially the laziest to write, or the most difficult. There are sequences out there that clearly required no effort to write, for example, picking eight world capitals or eight song titles and providing an introduction of “given a thing, name the thing it is connected to”. Unfortunately, those sequences give very little consideration to equality for each player; in a set of eight with Norse gods as answers, one player will be lucky enough on a default guess of “Thor” (not to mention the potential imbalance of a whole team getting easier parts than the other side). Another issue is that assigned questions are usually in a single subject (history, sports, literature, etc). Modern top teams are not built to have every player dipping their toes in each subject, but rather with players specializing in a few subjects. If a sequence has harder questions, it could all go dead except for the single player on each team that knows the topic (art questions can be particularly prone to this). Getting equality and accessibility in a single subject is actually a challenge to pull off, and was an exercise in frustration for me when I followed my distribution grid and saw that it was time for an assigned question on sports or social science!

Good assigned questions will be a hurdle as overall question quality improves in SchoolReach. I found them to be the most draining type to write, especially compared to a who-am-I or scramble that former quizbowl writers would find comfortable. It may be time to consider alternate ways to use an assigned format. The shootout is one, but perhaps there is room to incorporate assigned parts into relays or lists. For example, have a relay on a subject that starts with easy answers that the weak players in the subject can buzz on (and then step aside), leaving the remaining hard answers for the specialists. Or take a cue from Top of the Form: if you don’t earn your assigned part, your team can first buzz and bail you out for half value before it goes to the opposite side. Assigned questions should still play a role in SchoolReach as a way to reward teams that diversify from just a single monolithic player, but we may need some creativity to keep it fair.

I’ll offer a strategic hint for the current format of assigned questions. If player seating order is not a significant factor for your team, have the most generalized player sit fourth. This person might not necessarily be the top player, but is someone who could get a tiny bit of everything. By sitting fourth, the generalist will be able to eliminate answers that already came up in the phase, narrowing down the potential options for the question they will hear at the end. This is particularly useful for answer spaces that come from a somewhat limited list, such as Shakespearean plays, provinces, religions, or parts of a cell. But then again, take it with a grain of salt, as it would really only affect one question out of a game of more than eighty.

I will be off for the rest of the summer. I will return after Labour Day with a preview of the upcoming year, so feel free to bring any insights.

Old scores and finals

Please point out my inaccuracies.

Thanks to Sinan for giving some updated scores regarding his tenure with Woburn from 2004 to 2006. There are updates to the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Ontario provincial pages and some national final scores.

Woburn’s 510-470 national final victory over UTS in 2006 marks the highest known losing score. Perhaps unsurprisingly, UTS’ long domination of Reach also has them with the second-highest known losing score (415 in 2008) and a tie for third-highest (410 in 2017).

Sinan also recalled, but can’t confirm, a 630-410 final between St. George’s and Leaside in 2004. If this was to be confirmed, it would be both the highest winning and highest combined final scores, surpassing both held by the 600-410 final between Frontenac and Saunders in 1999.

Edit: The 2004 final has been confirmed as 610-410 and now takes those known records.

I did a bit more spelunking, and here are my known national final scores (pre-1985 comes from CBC archive summaries):

  • 1974: Gonzaga 300, O’Leary 270
  • 1975: Queen Elizabeth 455, Gordon Bell 285
  • 1976: Central Peel 305, O’Leary 290 (finding O’Leary in yet another nationals is really discrediting the Canadian Encyclopedia‘s claim of fellow Alberta team Lorne Jenken having 6 consecutive nationals in the 1970s!)
  • 1977: Glenlawn 340, Dryden 315 (a news article about Glenlawn claimed they earned a “record” 535 points, but perhaps the reporter mistook a prelim score)
  • 1978: Vincent Massey 300, Dryden 255
  • 1979: Banting Memorial 310, Dryden 270
  • 1981: Cobequid 265, BC representative 205 (lowest known winning score)
  • 1983: Roland Michener 360, Lorne Jenken 195
  • 1984: Deloraine 315, Moncton 280
  • 1992: Saunders 380, Ancaster 300
  • 1998: Gloucester 440, Kingston 380
  • 1999: Frontenac 600, Saunders 410
  • 2000: Merivale 310, Ridley College 210
  • 2004: St. George’s 610, Leaside 410
  • 2006: Woburn 510, UTS 470
  • 2007: London Central 365, KVHS 300
  • 2008: Lisgar 420, UTS 415 (closest final)
  • 2009: London Central 470, KVHS 310
  • 2010: KVHS 330, Cobequid 290
  • 2011: KVHS 380, Centennial CVI 360
  • 2012: UTS 420, London Central 250
  • 2013: UTS 540, Bellerose 190
  • 2014: Martingrove 390, London Central 290
  • 2015: Lisgar 380, KVHS 280
  • 2016: KVHS 440, Eric Hamber 330
  • 2017: Lisgar 460, UTS 410
  • 2018: UTS 520, London Central 280

I’m not sure how to incorporate this in the database, since most of the old scores are the only known score from the event. I have them saved for myself, and I will probably refer to them in factoids.

Analysis: Coping with the Schedule

More than a gauntlet is needed for schedule balance

The Ontario SchoolReach provincial championship whittles roughly 40 teams down to three national invites. To coordinate the largest field of any SchoolReach event, teams are split into pools that play amongst each other, with the (usually) top two of eight in each group moving on to the playoffs.

The composition of the pool can play a significant role in how far a team can progress in the tournament. There are good-faith efforts to balance the pools, but historically with no other background information, organizers had to use reputation (and geographical separation) to form the pools. Often, this led to strange results, such as two 2013 national invites coming from the same preliminary group. Ideally, and with more information, teams would be sorted so that they earn a final rank appropriate to their performance.

But I can’t solve that for now. What I can do is look back, thanks to collecting data from past tournaments. I occasionally get asked (or hear complaints) about how teams don’t get a fair shot during provincials, either through losing a playoff spot to a “weaker” team or having to deal with a group of death. I took a look at some numbers.

The analysis is based on teams that had at least 10 appearances at Ontario provincials since 1999. Results from 2003-05 are excluded from the averages because I don’t have pool composition for those tournaments (just points and ranks). 18 schools fit the bill, including most of the modern “usual suspects” for national qualifications.

rank_PPG
Fig 1. Average rank and PPG of frequent Ontario SchoolReach championship attendees

First up is a team’s average rank against their average round-robin points per game. See figure 1, and excuse the crowded labels in places; some teams are close together. There is an unsurprising relationship – teams that finish well scored more points to get there. There are four teams that are at least a full standard deviation from the linear trend:

  • UTS earns more points than necessary to get their rank. They are also limited by being unable to go below 1, even though they would fit closer to a theoretical rank of “0”.
  • Lisgar gets the round-robin points to justify an average rank in the 1-3 range. However, they have a history of stumbling in the playoffs, especially the televised ones, which gives them a lower final rank than their seed would suggest.
  • I will get back to Leaside in a later graph. In the early years, the team scored UTS-esque point tallies. In their later years, they had schedule benefits. Their mid-years are excluded (2003-05).
  • Assumption earns fewer points than expected. It will be seen later that one of my past assumptions (pun intended) that they get easy draws is false. Instead, they probably earn lots of close wins in the prelims, operating on razor-thin margins of victory to often get on the better side of the playoff bubble.
rank_SOS
Fig 2. Average rank and strength of schedule of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

Next is the comparison of rank and strength of schedule. The relationship is not as strong, but teams with better ranks usually have an easier schedule. This is expected for balanced pools – the top teams in the pools face teams weaker than them, while the bottom teams face opponents stronger than them. Unfortunately, we don’t have information-based balance, so we are starting to see some outliers:

  • Leaside is on the low side of this chart. They were getting statistically significantly easier schedules than their rank would suggest. However, I believe I can explain this – Leaside made the provincial final in all (and only) the three excluded years. Leaside was extremely good in the 2003-05 period. They were also a very strong prelim team before that, but would slip in the playoffs. For their remaining active years (consecutively until 2009), they probably benefited from reputation placing them as expected pool winners, but they never made playoffs again after the 2005 run. If the 2003-05 results could be added, they would have a higher average rank with probably not too much change in SOS.
  • Lisgar appears low, but is within a standard deviation. As mentioned before, their average rank is worse than expected because of historical poor playoff performance.
  • The cluster of Oakville-Trafalgar, Waterloo, and Westdale have a right to gripe. They face statistically significantly tougher schedules than their results would justify – Westdale is almost two standard deviations from the trend. OTHS is particularly surprising: they had good results in the missing years (thanks to University Challenge celebrity Eric Monkman), but don’t appear to have been given a “boost” from that reputation; they seem to be put in pools under the assumption they don’t do well. Westdale’s tough luck was also looked at in an earlier post when I posited (incorrectly) that Hamilton teams in general suffered from bad schedules.
SOS_PPG
Fig 3. Average strength of schedule and PPG of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

The last graph, comparing SOS and PPG, could be summarized as how teams cope with the schedule they’ve been dealt. Strength of schedule loosely represents pool strength and the potential unbalance, so teams getting PPGs above the trend are punching above their weight to overcome a bad draw. A few teams are outliers:

  • Westdale still stands out (OTHS and Waterloo draw closer to the trend in this analysis). Their single greatest mountain to climb was the 2013 pool: they had a 5-2 record, their second-best ever PPG relative to the set, and a final rank of 11th, all while dealing with two nationals-bound teams and a third team that also got into the playoffs. Westdale also incredibly made playoffs in 2009 with a 1.15 SOS. Westdale often got the worst schedules, but they made every effort to try to get something out of it.
  • Assumption is the outlier on the low end. I don’t wish to suggest that they are a low-effort team, though. They get schedules that are roughly fair for what is expected of them, but the first analysis suggested that they just don’t pick up large margins of victory.
  • UTS is also an outlier. They appear to have an easy slate of opponents, but they are still performing better than their schedule would expect. UTS has had a few years with tough pools (including the 2013 one mentioned earlier) while still consistently putting up points – they have qualified for nationals four times with a preliminary SOS greater than 1. Organizers (unintentionally) throw tough teams at UTS, and they still prevail.

So there are some data to ponder. I’m sure there are some less-frequent teams that also struggle or get an easy break, but the teams highlighted here should have enough sample size to stand out. Use your own results to see how your team compares to these provincial regulars.

The 1974 Gonzaga team

With a special appearance by Bob Cole!

The 1974 Gonzaga team is almost certainly the CBC-era Reach for the Top team with the most coverage today. Many Canadians are nostalgic for the games on CBC, whether through playing or watching, but few squads get as much attention as the underdog team from St. John’s. The Telegram ran a retrospective article in 2015 with the four members of the team. CBC published an article this past week in the context of a book launch about the 1974 team. In addition, the whole final match is available on YouTube (part 1, part 2).

1974 was near the beginning of Reach’s prime years. I have previously written about the paradigm shift of 1972/73, and within a year, top teams were all studying hard and becoming the most competitive teams of the CBC era. Archbishop O’Leary HS, which I believe is the birthplace of year-long practices, made it to the 1974 final as a favourite to continue the string of two consecutive titles for Alberta (O’Leary in 1972 and Lorne Jenken HS in 1973). Meanwhile, Gonzaga HS from Newfoundland, receiving a swell of local support thanks to Reach opting to film Nationals in St. John’s in celebration of the 25th anniversary of joining Confederation, was picking off established teams with a group of grade 11 students (Newfoundland, like Quebec, went only to grade 11 in high school at the time). The final was Gonzaga’s “David” to the O’Leary “Goliath”.

The final was a tale of two halves. O’Leary spent the first phase flustered with incorrect buzzes, giving Gonzaga early leads of 65-0 and then 170-30 by mid-game. O’Leary also got burned by a few tough (and possibly inconsistent) calls of “time” in the quick pace moderator Bill Guest was running. However, O’Leary started clawing back with assigned, scramble, and what-am-I questions on geography. About three-quarters of the way through, Gerry of Gonzaga accidentally hit his buzzer at the start of a question and was forced to give an impossible response; he was visibly shaken by this and went from being the most dominant player on the team to failing to give a correct answer for the rest of the match. In the final snappers phase, O’Leary was on fire and held a 280-270 lead with about one minute to go. However, two incorrect O’Leary buzzes (with -5 penalties) and the up-to-now quiet Peter’s answers of “[Beatrix] Potter” and “the” sealed the close 300-270 victory for the home team.

This was Gonzaga’s (and Newfoundland’s) only Reach title. They would continue to make national appearances consecutively until 1979, but not reach a final again. Gonzaga, as well as the whole province of Newfoundland and Labrador, did not continue participation into the SchoolReach era. O’Leary became overshadowed by Lorne Jenken for Alberta representation after this, but that province continued to make regular semifinal appearances through to the 1980s.

The 1974 team’s legacy lives on. Member Tom Harrington, a veteran host of several CBC programs over the years, holds some clout for keeping his team’s success in the public eye. While there have been some other teams of that era with notable members (including Richview’s Stephen Harper, who lost to the eventual 1978 champions), the Gonzaga team gets the spotlight. Perhaps the timing of the team winning at home at the “coming of age” 25th anniversary struck a chord. There may be a strong attachment to the show in the province since nearly every high school would have had to participate in the 1970s to fill up the broadcast schedule (Manitoba also seems to have this connection from high participation due to low population). It is also interesting that the nostalgia has not resulted in any revival of SchoolReach; though it can be difficult to manage out-of-province competition without the logistical support of a TV network.

During this offseason, I will post less often but will continue to look at past results. If there are any requests for particular topics (other than future predictions), feel free to let me know. Happy Canada Day and enjoy the summer!

Old Ontario Scores

When Reach could be picked up with bunny ears

The 2006-2009 gap in Ontario provincial tournaments is now mostly filled up. Thank you to Joe for collecting and saving the results. Here are the pages:

Most notable in these years was deviation from a field size of 40. This forced crossover matches and incomplete round-robins within a pool, which led to some teams getting rather imbalanced schedules. However, top teams usually still found their way to the playoffs, which was a whole different beast with the TVO format.

There is still some missing information on a few pages, but the database now has Ontario tournaments from 1999 to the present. Back in 1999, none of the 2018 playoff teams even participated. Things have changed!

Reach Scores Audio #22

2018 Lisgar Tournament, CB vs LCI C

Final match of the day. From the 2018 Lisgar Reach-style tournament, this round 12 match has Colonel By SS against Lisgar CI “C”. Moderating and production by Ben Smith.

Here is the link to the episode.

Notes:

  • I don’t know what I was thinking of for my comments about the 28-3 comeback game. It was Super Bowl LI. Perhaps I was sarcastically surprised it was a question about the 2017 Bowl rather than the numerous ones about the 2018 one that happened about two weeks earlier at the time.
  • The Dutch basketball team is not great, despite the height of their citizenry. They have never made the Olympics, and have infrequent qualifications to the European championships.
  • Once again, the aesthenosphere pops up. The poorly-written question suggested it was part of the crust.

Thanks for listening! This ends the series of recordings for the 2018 Lisgar tournament. As a final reminder, listening to any of these games will prevent you from playing on the questions competitively, however I suspect the circulation of this set is finished. If Lisgar writes again next year, I may reconsider recording: it was not very appropriate to hold back recordings of other people for such a long time, but releasing audio would complicate the use of the set elsewhere. I hope other regions will be open to trying an independent tournament next year as a way to improve their circuit.