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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 Lisgar novice tournament

The final: Bell

Lisgar CI held their novice tournament on Saturday. Ten teams from four Ottawa schools participated in the quizbowl event intended for junior and new players.

Bell HS won in a final over Glebe A 390-80. Lisgar A and C rounded out the top group of 4. Colonel By was the other participating school. Bell has had off-and-on activity ever since they withdrew from Reach earlier this decade, but if they are intending to re-subscribe, this team will probably be their main team. They only lost to Glebe A earlier in the day. Glebe was undefeated until the last round-robin game, but members started leaving after lunch and took a toll on the team’s performance as the day wrapped up. Lisgar, Glebe, and Colonel By all have more senior members who didn’t play today, so we don’t have a full preview of the season ahead in Ottawa.

This tournament used a Canadianized version of the 2018 SCOP Novice set. It served its purpose well – the novice teams answered almost all of the tossups and, without discussing specifics, nothing was too difficult for an average high school team. Hopefully the set will find use in southern Ontario or elsewhere.

The next tournament on my schedule will be quizbowl at Carleton on December 1, which is open to all high school teams and should bring out the senior players in Ottawa.

2018 UTS Fall results

The season opener.

Last Saturday, 32 teams got their start on the 2019 season by attending the UTS fall tournament. Most teams were from southern Ontario, but Lisgar CI and Kennebecasis Valley HS also made the trip. Lisgar won the tournament by defeating UTS 300-230 in the final.

The results table is now up. Every team had their bracket played out to determine the ranks from 1 to 32. A few lower bracket playoff games are missing, but nothing that affects R-values.

The schedule definitely stood out. Like last year, only the first five rounds of 8-team round-robins were played. This meant that each team missed out on two of the opponents they would be ranked against for determining afternoon placements. Depending on the relative strength of those missed opponents, a team’s strength of schedule could be much further from average (1.0) than what you’d find at, say, Ontario provincials. The most surprising example was that the team with the easiest schedule (Martingrove) and toughest schedule (Oakville-Trafalgar A) came from the same pool! A few contending teams like St. Michael’s and Abbey Park got burned by facing all the tougher teams and missing out on the top tier despite beating a top-tier-bound team that faced weaker opponents.

The organizers want to insist on a 32-team schedule to allow the three bracketed rounds in the afternoon. For a fairer schedule, the four initials pools of eight should be broken into two pools of 6 and four of 5 – the 6-pools do a round-robin, while the 5-pools pair off and have a team play all five teams in the paired pool (eg: pools C and D have 5 teams, with C1 playing D1 to D5, C2 playing D1 to D5, D1 playing C1 to C5, etc.). Once everyone has a 5-game record with a (hopefully) diverse range of opponents, rank the records for the whole field to split teams into the playoff tiers.

That being said, the initial pools were also uneven, and was noticed before the tournament began. Pool A had four teams from last year’s top ten playoff in Ontario (UTS, Lisgar, White Oaks SS, and Abbey Park), while Pool D had none (though that pool had KVHS). While it is true that it is difficult to seed the first tournament of the year, especially if team composition changes over the summer, the two Oakville teams should have been noticed. Abbey Park finished with the highest R-value thanks to that tough pool, and easily won the second tier. Also interestingly, Pool A had teams that finished 1 & 2, Pool B had teams 3 & 4, Pool C had teams 5 & 6, and Pool D had teams 7 & 8 (though the distribution below that was spread more evenly).

Despite the schedule, this was still a good preview for Ontario. There is a fairly clear cluster of teams with R-values over 100% that should be vying for provincial playoff spots. St. Michael’s looks ready to fill the void in Toronto representation left by RSGC. TMS and Abbey Park will build off their solid provincials debuts last year and contend for Monday games come May. While I don’t wish to imply that all teams’ fates are set, my early prediction is that eight of the ten Ontario playoff teams participated last week – the absences being Glebe CI and a potential Waterloo or Peel team. Hopefully many of these teams will take a crack at another tournament later in the year.

Speaking of which, the tournament schedule carries on. Lisgar hosts a novice quizbowl tournament next weekend, and Carleton will host an event on December 1 open to all levels of high school teams. Those tournaments will likely only have the eastern Ontario teams, but I’ll have reports after their conclusions.

Congratulations to all the teams that played at UTS last week, and good luck in your future tournaments.

UTS Fall update

Every Reach champ since 2006 in attendance

A quick update of the UTS Fall tournament (full results once I get back and have all the scores).

Lisgar CI won the tournament with a 300-230 final over UTS. Westmount SS and Martingrove CI were the other semifinalists. 32 teams competed, and the playoffs were set up to sort everyone in a rank from 1 to 32.

The incomplete round robin (first 5 games of an 8-team schedule) produced some strange underlying numbers. I’ll get to those in a fuller update.

Congratulations to all the competing teams, and thanks to UTS for hosting.

Upcoming fall tournaments

The real season preview

The 2018-19 tournament season opens with the UTS fall tournament this coming weekend. UTS has run house-written tournaments off-and-on for more than a decade, and the event has grown to be a good preview for the Ontario provincial tournament. The field has been mostly GTA and southern Ontario teams, though national contenders like Kennebecasis Valley HS and Lisgar CI have made occasional trips.

I don’t have much to preview for this year’s tournament, considering that nobody has played yet. While several teams will have a winning reputation entering the event, this is also the time for hidden talent to make their mark – the RSGC squad had their breakout performance when they finished 3rd behind UTS and eventual national champ KVHS in 2015. Teams that would normally be “off the radar” can make an impression to help for placements or seedings in later events.

I will be at the UTS event. I will give my updates through Twitter, and will eventually have a report when the results are available.

Eastern Ontario teams can prepare for Lisgar’s novice tournament on November 10. It will be in the quizbowl format, but if your school is new to quizbowl, you can count as “novice” (experienced clubs will field their junior players). Lisgar and Glebe will probably sit their stars for this, so we will have to wait until later in the year to see how they shape up.

Good luck to the teams competing in these events!

Practice Questions

Or questionable practices

Many clubs are starting up their meetings this time of year. While early meetings will sort out fees, a tournament schedule, and other administrative tasks, the majority of the time will be spent practicing on questions.

Clubs can have different attitudes toward practice questions. Some clubs meet quite infrequently and get enough playtime through the welcome package provided by SchoolReach. Some clubs limit buzzer time in favour of studying or writing material. Many, however, quickly burn through the supplied questions in a few practices.

Firstly, it is worth considering not using the introductory package (of roughly 12 packs) during practice. When I was in high school, we saved them for arranged matches between other local clubs; we’d taxi over for an afternoon against another school and play 3 or 4 of the packs. I’m sure other schools do this as well, and if you don’t, you may want to find a fellow school that would also agree to not use the introductory package intramurally in exchange for mini-tournaments.

Once the welcome package is exhausted, most teams resort to old SchoolReach questions. Unfortunately, this method works because of a history of repeated questions and topics. The potential repetition also favours established teams with a large archive and hinders any new teams trying to move up the ranks. A diet of old questions with careful attention to “pet” topics is probably good enough to get past regionals.

Even a decent SchoolReach archive can be depleted, especially for players in their fourth year of practices. Digging up questions more than a decade old tends not to be very useful, both because of the lost relevancy of current event topics and because writing trends change over time. Most good teams know about this, but for new practice material, go to the quizbowl packet archive. Even if you can’t figure out the quizbowl format, you can get away with reading all the question types on the buzzer. The archive covers the spectrum from middle school novice sets to university national championships, so take the time to find something right for your level. A high school team starting up for the year is recommended to try the SCOP sets or the Ladue sets. Like with old Reach questions, be careful about the relevancy of questions before 2008 or so. With over 400 tournaments each containing roughly 10 packs, the quizbowl archive provides more than enough material for a high school team.

Of course, there is also the option to create your own material. Some clubs see value in writing questions as a way to practice: not only does it require you to look up information, but you must also find out what information about a topic is important for clues and how relevant that topic is for a question. A question that simply asks “who was born on [date]?” is useless to a player; the writer must find facts that will give a player a reasonable opportunity to buzz. Practice writing doesn’t need to actually end up played at the buzzer, though a few schools put that effort to use as independent tournaments, especially south of the border.

Hopefully I have provided some options for getting your practice material started up for the year. Please don’t ask me about old SchoolReach questions, because I don’t have any and they are not supposed to be distributed.

Finally, an early reminder that the UTS tournament is happening on the weekend of October 27. I intend to go for staffing and reporting updates, and I hope to see many teams there. Get practicing!

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.