Analysis: Coping with the Schedule

More than a gauntlet is needed for schedule balance

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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.

2018 Nationals Preview

Who can pull off the longest soundcheck?

The Reach for the Top national championship will be upon us in less than a week, and 16 teams will gather in Toronto to compete for the title. Last year’s winner, Lisgar CI, did not qualify this year, but many other former winners will be in attendance. Here is a preview of the competitors (sorted by province):

British Columbia

St. George’s School

  • Most recent national result: 10th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (1991, 2004)

Eric Hamber SS

  • Most recent national result: 2nd (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 2nd (2016)

Sir Winston Churchill SS

  • Most recent national result: 7th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 5th (2008)

After fielding two new teams last year, BC returns some regulars with a very competitive history. St. George’s was possibly the most dominant team of the 1990s and had an almost-uninterrupted national attendance streak from 1991 to 2008. Eric Hamber will have its runner-up 2016 finish still in mind, while Churchill has been the most regular BC attendee this decade. The provincial order of finish (listed above) may mean nothing; last year, the BC teams finished nationally in reverse order. All three teams will be looking for quarterfinal spots.

Alberta

The Renert School

  • Most recent national result: 9th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 9th (2017)

Old Scona Academic School

  • Most recent national result: 8th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 4th (2014, 2016)

Webber Academy

  • Most recent national result: 12th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 10th (2014)

Despite losing their 2017 MVP, Renert is getting better each season and comes to nationals with a provincial title won over Old Scona. Both those teams gave scares to the bigger teams during the round-robin last year, but the nationals field is strong and they’ll have to fight for a return to the quarterfinals. Webber will probably be a step below them, but getting in the top 12 elimination bracket or a best-ever result would be a good goal.

Manitoba

Kelvin HS

  • Most recent national result: 5th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (1970)

St. John’s-Ravenscourt School

  • Most recent national result: 10th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 7th (2007)

Fort Richmond Collegiate

  • Most recent national result: none
  • Best national result (on file): none

Coming off a strong fifth place last year, Kelvin won their provincial title this time, and will be the Manitoba team to watch. They won’t have their MVP from last year, but the lineup will still be a threat through to the playoffs. St. John’s-Ravenscourt and newcomer Fort Richmond will vie for the elimination bracket as well, though they have less nationals experience than their provincial champion.

Ontario

University of Toronto Schools

  • Most recent national result: 2nd (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2002-03, 2012-13)

Martingrove CI

  • Most recent national result: 3rd (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2014)

London Central SS

  • Most recent national result: 6th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2007, 2009)

Like last year, the Ontario teams enter as favourites and should be headed for at least the semifinals. UTS’ main team has won every tournament they have competed in, but they have been beaten before and could be prone to a round-robin upset. UTS will be competing for their fifth national title. Martingrove and Central also have made several appearances at nationals over the past decade, and one of them will likely face UTS in the final. It should be close between these two; they did not face each other at provincials, but look for their round-robin match as the game to watch on Saturday (added note: Martingrove beat Central 410-280 in the final of the UTS fall tournament).

Quebec

I don’t know who won Quebec, but the educational structure of the province makes it difficult to field a strong team. It will either be a high school limited to grade 11 students, or a CEGEP team consisting only of students competing together for one year. Occasionally a team makes a good run (Dawson’s 2nd place in 2003 or Marianopolis’ 4th seed in 2014), but a midfield finish is more likely.

New Brunswick

Kennebecasis Valley HS

  • Most recent national result: 4th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2010-11, 2016)

(Fredericton HS)

  • Most recent national result: 11th (2012)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (1995)

Kennebecasis Valley HS once again continues their attendance streak since 2005, having picked up three titles and a further three finals appearances during that run. They should be the greatest threat to the Ontario trio, and gave quite a scare to UTS in the semis last year. However, they have finished below the Ontario teams in other tournaments this year, so they will need to put in a superlative performance. Fredericton is included on this list if they end up being the 16th team; they were a powerhouse in the 1990s, but have spent recent years fighting for second place in tournaments with the other New Brunswick schools behind KV.

Nova Scotia

Cobequid EC

  • Most recent national result: 14th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (1981, 2005)

(Auburn Drive HS)

  • Most recent national result: 16th (2017)
  • Best national result (on file): 10th (2008)

Cobequid is the most frequent Nova Scotia representative this century, but they have dipped since their late 00s peak. The health of the Nova Scotia circuit is waning, and lack of participation in the province (especially after the end of the Dalhousie tournament) fizzles the competitive sparks among the remaining teams. Cobequid will still put up a challenge to the midfield teams, but they (and Auburn Drive if they attend) will probably spend Sunday in the consolation bracket.

Those are most of the teams. Quebec is unknown to me, and the 16th team will likely be from one of the Maritime provinces, so I have included those provincial runners-up on the lists. There is an outside chance that the fourth Ontario team (Royal St. George’s College, conveniently a stone’s throw from the tournament site) could be called in as a replacement; they would immediately jump to quarterfinal contention in that case.

Teams will spend Saturday in a full round-robin. This will sort the entire field leading up to the playoffs. The national round-robin uses shorter packs than usual to fit more games in; a smaller question sample size can lead to occasional surprise results. However, there is new editing management that will try to weed out points from repeats and introduce subjects that haven’t been heard before. It will be a long day, but there will be times for breaks on Sunday.

Playoffs are on Sunday. The top four seeds earn byes while seeds 5 to 12 start off the elimination bracket. Most elimination games occur one at a time on stage, so there will be some downtime while teams remain in contention. For midfield teams, the consolation bracket could be the best bang for your buck; once you are eliminated from title contention, you get to play as many as five extra games to sort out ranks 9 to 16. Monday sees the semifinals, finals, and a closing ceremony.

Good luck to the national competitors! Represent your province well, and enjoy yourselves.

2018 Ontario Provincials preview

Lisgar’s attendance streak is old enough to vote.

Roughly 40 teams from across Ontario will gather next week to determine the provincial SchoolReach champion. It is the most-attended Reach tournament of the year and is usually a springboard for the eventual national champions.

The format should still be similar to that of previous years. Five pools of eight teams will run a round robin to produce ten playoff teams. The pool winners will go through, followed by the best winning records and point totals. The ten playoff teams then play a modified elimination bracket to qualify the three Ontario teams heading to Nationals.

Like last year (see the 2017 preview post), I will give an assessment of the contenders. I group them into tiers of five; it is difficult to give a clear single rank to teams with most data unavailable, and the tiers would suggest that each pool should have one team from each tier. There is likely some bias towards teams that have reported results – I couldn’t predict the 11th place team from Windsor last year, for example.

Here are the contenders, listed only in alphabetical order within tiers:

Tier 1 (should win pool)

London Central SS

  • 2017 provincials result: 5th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 1st (2007, 2009, 2014)

Central has results from the UTS fall tournament (2nd, 149%) and a mirror of the Lisgar tournament (1st, 115%). They may have lost to Martingrove in the fall, but have handily got past any other contenders they have faced. They haven’t faced the main UTS team, though, and that will probably stop them from claiming another provincial title. They are in a good spot for a Nationals qualification.

Martingrove CI

  • 2017 provincials result: 3rd
  • Best provincial result (on file): 1st (2013, 2015-16)

Martingrove will be vying for an incredible (for Ontario) sixth consecutive Nationals qualification. They won the “provincials preview” UTS tournament (1st, 123%) and breezed through their region (1st, 183%). Their underlying numbers are not as strong as some earlier years, though, and they may be vulnerable in the playoffs.

University of Toronto Schools

  • 2017 provincials result: 1st
  • Best provincial result (on file): 1st (2001-04, 2008, 2012, 2017)

There’s no skirting around it, UTS is the favourite. In Reach and quizbowl, they haven’t lost to another school, and their only statistically measured result with the main team, the Lisgar tournament (1st, 144%), is miles ahead of anyone else. They will have a heavy dose of substitutions during the prelims and early playoffs, but the B team’s equally impressive results during the year will keep the wins coming.

Upper Canada College

  • 2017 provincials result: 4th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 2nd (2016)

UCC has quietly grown to a semifinal lock in recent years. I only have their UTS tournament (17th, 144%), but I think they were victims of the very unbalanced morning pool situation – they got the points, but had to face all the contenders. Hopefully, the provincial pools will be more stable and give them another high seed.

Westmount SS

  • 2017 provincials result: 8th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 7th (2004)

Westmount has been the busiest team all year, playing any tournament they can find. They did well at the UTS tournament (4th, 179%) and regionals (1st, 184%) but got four losses to Central at the Lisgar mirror (2nd, 104%). In quizbowl, they were regularly second to UTS, but didn’t do well in History Bowl. Westmount will be hoping that all this practice makes perfect, and they have an outside chance of being the first Hamilton team at Nationals since the early 1990s.

Tier 2 (should make playoffs)

The Academy for Gifted Children (PACE)

  • 2017 provincials result: 7th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 2nd (2013)

I actually don’t know if PACE qualified, and have no results for them. This is entirely a rank based on their reputation; the years they make provincials, they almost always make the playoffs. In the event that PACE didn’t qualify, the regional representative (such as Newmarket) would probably take their place in the tiers.

Glebe CI

  • 2017 provincials result: DNQ
  • Best provincial result (on file): 8th (2015)

Glebe has never been eliminated in the provincial prelims, therefore, they will make playoffs. More seriously, they have been somewhat of a middling team all year, including at the Lisgar tournament (9th, 83%), but produced a surprise at regionals (1st, 192%) with the best R-value of the year that has been collected. Glebe’s other provincial runs were surprisingly good compared to their regular season performances, so perhaps they are attuned to pure SchoolReach format.

Lisgar CI

  • 2017 provincials result: 2nd
  • Best provincial result (on file): 2nd (2008, 2015, 2017)

Lisgar’s lineup is entirely different from last year’s national champions. They have been active this year as usual, but fall short to other busy contenders like UTS and Westmount. Their lineup appeared at UTS (7th, 135%) and regionals (2nd, 180%), but was split over the B and C teams at their hosted tournament. Lisgar has enough strength to get through the first day, but they will likely have to meet a team in the playoffs they have lost to earlier in the year.

Royal St. George’s College

  • 2017 provincials result: 9th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 9th (2017)

RSGC predictions always burn me. They have not yet been able to convert their dominance of History Bowl into Reach success. I’ve had them as potential national qualifiers in the past two years, but they only made playoffs once in that time. This year, I am putting them in the second tier range; they still have their best player, but a lot of his supporting cast from previous years have graduated. RSGC could also desperately use a provincials set that isn’t relying on recycled material from past years.

White Oaks SS

  • 2017 provincials result: DNQ
  • Best provincial result (on file): 11th (2015)

White Oaks has never made provincial playoffs before, but they look like the best of the midfield. At the UTS tournament (13th, 120%), the only teams with better R-values than them are already higher on this list. They pulled off an impressive 390PPG during their regional playoffs, but I don’t count elimination playoffs in R-value calculations (it messes up strength of schedule – they would be listed at 221% otherwise!).

Tier 3 (could make playoffs)

Abbey Park HS

  • 2017 provincials result: DNQ
  • Best provincial result (on file): no appearance

Abbey Park beat OTHS to be the other Halton representative. They put up higher scores than White Oaks in the regional playoffs, but lost the final. Abbey Park has never been to provincials (the school is younger than my records), but the good regional run and some History Bowl preparation could lead to a nice provincial debut for the team.

Michael Power – St. Joseph HS

  • 2017 provincials result: 26th
  • Best provincial result (on file): 15th (2013)

MPSJ once again got through regionals (2nd, 131%) ahead of other teams with higher R-values, but their result at UTS (15th, 95%) still suggests they could pull off a top 15 finish. They haven’t made it to the playoffs before, however, so they will need to give their best performances of the year during the prelims to achieve that.

Nepean HS

  • 2017 provincials result: DNQ
  • Best provincial result (on file): 23rd (2016)

Nepean should do better than their single previous appearance, when they were thrown into the 2016 pool of death. While they finished behind Glebe and Lisgar at regionals (3rd, 159%), they will still put up competitive numbers to justify Ottawa’s three qualification spots. Nepean was probably equal with Glebe up until the regional tournament, and could be a worthy opponent to a team in a higher tier.

The Scarborough winner

  • 2017 provincials result: N/A (Neil McNeil was 14th)
  • Best provincial result (on file): N/A

I don’t know who won Scarborough, but the region should produce a team in these tiers. Agincourt at UTS (10th, 102%) gives the best estimate of where a Scarborough team might finish.

Toronto Montessori Schools

  • 2017 provincials result: DNQ
  • Best provincial result (on file): no appearance

TMS is another first-timer that could make a good provincial debut. This team has grown quickly from an exploratory visit at Lisgar two years ago to a regional winner. They put up mid-tier numbers at UTS (11th, 82%) and the Lisgar set mirror (3rd, 84%), but winning the York region over traditional favourites like CHAT and Bayview should now put them on other teams’ radar. They have demonstrated an ability to get wins even with lower PPGs, but I don’t think they’ll make it to playoffs.


There is a fair bit of stability at the top, with the only teams from last year’s playoffs not mentioned being Assumption (did not qualify out of Halton) and Merivale (did not participate in Ottawa).

Some other teams I considered, but didn’t select, are Centennial CVI (12th and 77% at UTS), Glenforest SS (the Peel winner over teams like Heart Lake and Mayfield), Almonte DHS (10th and 69% at Lisgar), and teams from Waterloo or Niagara. I don’t want to place them in a fourth tier, though, because at that level you run into lots of teams with no results to use.

Overall, UTS, London Central, and Martingrove look like the contenders for the three Nationals spots. There could be a surprise playoff appearance by a team not on my radar, but as last year’s preview showed, provincial results are becoming more forecastable.

I will be at provincials this year without attachment to any team. This will give me some flexibility to find games I want to see. This blog will not be updated with any results until I return, but I will try to give some reports on my Twitter feed.

Good luck to all the provincial competitors!

Calgary and Lisgar

13 Nats appearances in past 3 years in this post

After some wait, I finally have results tables again.

First up is the Calgary-Foothills SchoolReach regional tournament. This region has produced four National appearances in the past two years from Renert School, Rundle College, and Webber Academy. The tournament is still in progress with the two Renert teams still undefeated; results are found here. I don’t have a schedule of matchups that have occurred so far, so I can’t give R-values yet. The set PPG of 181 (probably closer to 200 when factoring out some forfeits) feels low for a regional tournament – they have been in the 230-250 PPG range in recent years. Considering that there are Nationals-bound teams in the field, this doesn’t look good for high points scores in other upcoming regions.

This is in contrast to the scoring blitz that was the 2018 Lisgar Reach tournament. UTS and Kennebecasis Valley once again joined the Ottawa-area teams in a tournament that has become a preview of Nationals. Results of the senior division are found here. UTS “A” won the tournament with a tidy points haul, losing only to UTS “C”, who finished second. Lisgar and KVHS rounded out the top 4 bracket. In the junior division, Glebe went undefeated and gave second-place Ashbury their only losses, while two KVHS teams tied for third.

The senior field at Lisgar was stacked. UTS “A” picked up almost 60% of the points available and only had an R-value of 144%. In the past, the junior division used essentially the same set as the seniors, so their results could be included too. For this year, there was enough difference to require separating them. This means there were no “weak” teams in the field to make UTS look relatively stronger. The bottom two finishers, Glebe and Almonte, are expected to end up in the top 20 at Ontario Provincials, while 4th through 9th were covered by a 55 PPG difference. In fact, the whole field can be circled as:

  • Almonte won against Glebe
  • Glebe won against Colonel By
  • Colonel By won against UTS B
  • UTS B won against Lisgar B
  • Lisgar B won against Lisgar C
  • Lisgar C won against KVHS
  • KVHS won against Lisgar A
  • Lisgar A won against UTS C
  • UTS C won against UTS A
  • while UTS A won against Almonte

Also, I made recordings of matches at the tournament, though I think I should withhold releasing them until a decision is made about using the questions at another site (TBD).

History Bowl also began their Canadian leg yesterday, but I don’t have results from Hamilton yet.

Other regions are starting up soon, so there are busy times ahead!

The 1970s paradigm shift

Let’s do this: LOOOORNE JENKEN

Last summer during my ranking of CBC champions, I referred to a paradigm shift that changed the game. In 1972, O’Leary HS of Alberta won a title by practicing earlier in the year; Lorne Jenken followed up in 1973 with probably the greatest single-season jump in innovation.

In the earliest years of Reach for the Top, the TV show brought in hastily-assembled teams. Sometimes a teacher ran a test to select the team, while there are a few cases of fielding the student council or making a team elected by students. Schools wanted their institution represented well on television, and there was attention to good manners and dress, but not necessarily hard knowledge. Other than Oak Bay from BC, there weren’t any “dynasties” where a school would readily bring a trained team year after year.

By the 1970s, the attitudes of teams on TV had changed. Students weren’t necessarily in their nice suits and dresses, and the players were starting to treat it as something to win rather than a means of making the school look good. The prize system may have helped: in the 1960s, only the school won bursaries; by the 1970s, the students themselves started receiving trips, books, and scholarships. Students now had another incentive to win the tournament.

O’Leary appears to be the first school to use a year-long practice method and win a title. I don’t know very much about their method other than that Lorne Jenken built upon it. Selecting a team at the beginning of the year – and having them study from encyclopedias, newspapers, and literature – was a new concept for the time. It allowed a team to split their topic strengths and build some chemistry before being thrust into the TV studio. I haven’t seen any footage of their 1972 title run, but in their 1974 final, they were very knowledgeable, not very TV-friendly, and only lost to Gonzaga by getting flustered from the Newfoundland home audience. They were much stronger than the teams in audio I’ve heard from 1960s games.

Lorne Jenken would have competed with O’Leary in the Edmonton area, and was no doubt inspired by O’Leary’s title. In the fall of 1972, new coach Ken Kowalski made a start-of-year intercom announcement asking for interested students – the meeting room filled up. I don’t know the logistics after that meeting, but somehow that large group of students became a credit course for Reach for the Top. Scheduled school time for a team would have been unheard of for the time, and is rare today. During the course, Kowalski and the students built a mock set of the studio with buzzers, studied books and old tournament questions, and perhaps most significantly, wrote tens of thousands of questions. Question writing is the preferred practice method of top teams today, but nobody was doing that in 1972. That class at Lorne Jenken was getting work done.

Side note: Lorne Jenken HS has since become Barrhead Composite. It is sometimes difficult to find information on the team because some people refer to it as “Lorne Jenkins”. Sources with “Jenkins” tends to be people recalling from the past, though it also appears on Reach’s list of champions. Meanwhile, Barrhead’s website mentions their old name of “Jenken”, as does some old news stories. I am sticking with “Lorne Jenken” for their name.

Lorne Jenken bested O’Leary at their own game in 1973. Lorne Jenken took the Alberta crown and went to Ottawa for their first nationals trip. I don’t know the identities of their opponents, but they beat teams from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec to win the title. Two consecutive titles (and almost a third in 1974) coming out of this Edmonton rivalry probably gave teams notice that change was afoot.

There was a shift in how teams played after the O’Leary/Jenken run. Players were aggressive on the buzzer, well-studied, and much more bonded as a team. Rather than assembling a group of seniors, teams would start bringing in younger players to acclimatize them for a later year. Reach of the later 1970s was in many ways similar to the modern era, and with a few adjustments, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those teams could have competed against today’s clubs. Dynasties formed: Lorne Jenken (7), Gonzaga (6), and Dryden (3) all had multiple national appearances, and the first two-time champion (Vincent Massey CI) re-emerged in this time. The CBC era was in a golden age.

The golden age faded around 1980. The previously-mentioned dynasties no longer appeared, prizes and viewership were reduced, and teams of the mid-1980s didn’t look as strong. The first threat of cancellation occurred in 1983, and Reach ended up being dropped from CBC in 1985.

O’Leary HS did not make nationals again after 1974. They were outclassed by Lorne Jenken in Alberta competition for the rest of the CBC era, and no longer participate in SchoolReach.

Lorne Jenken missed a 1974 appearance, but took the Alberta title for a further six consecutive years (1975-1980). They never reached the final again, but made it to the semis at least twice. The 1985 edition of the Canadian Encyclopedia referred to Lorne Jenken as the best Reach for the Top team ever. By the end of the decade, though, most strong schools had adopted practice and writing methods developed by the Alberta team. The school dropped in performance after the departure of their coach, Ken Kowalski, and their modern incarnation, Barrhead Composite, also no longer participates in SchoolReach.

Ken Kowalski was a local hero after the 1973 title and subsequent national appearances. In 1979, he left teaching and ran for a seat in the Alberta legislature. He credited his win to the positive reputation from his teams’ Reach successes. In 1997, he was elected Speaker of the assembly in Alberta and retained that position until his retirement in 2012, becoming the second-longest tenured politician to preside over the legislature.

The 1972/73 shift is the biggest single-season upheaval in Reach. If you write questions, use a practice buzzer set, or even just schedule time for intramural SchoolReach, thank Ken Kowalski and that little hotbed of activity around Edmonton.

2017 UTS fall tournament results

Let the season begin!

The University of Toronto Schools held a fall Reach-style tournament on October 28. UTS has held several independent tournaments in the past, but this is their first under new management (and the first where I have full results).

Traditionally, the UTS tournament attracts many southern Ontario teams, and occasionally has visitors from other parts of the province and the well-traveled KVHS team. Because of the wide variety of Ontario teams (and its original April date), the UTS tournament had been a good measuring stick for Ontario SchoolReach provincials.

This year’s tournament attracted 32 teams from 20 schools. The top four teams from 2017 Nationals and top six teams from 2017 Ontario provincials were in attendance. Teams were split into four pools of 8, but only completed five of the round-robin games for the morning preliminaries. This left an uneven schedule for some teams, as will be seen later. For the afternoon, the top 8, next 8, next 8, and bottom 8 teams were separated into “elimination” brackets, though all teams continued playing to resolve every rank from 1 to 32. Martingrove CI won the tournament, with a 410-280 victory over London Central SS “A” in the final.

The stats, including the R-value, are found at this link. The initial pools were divided as follows:

Pool A (313 PPG) Pool B (282 PPG) Pool C (253 PPG) Pool D (293 PPG)
  • Agincourt
  • Assumption A
  • Chaminade B
  • Central B
  • Richview
  • UCC A
  • UTS A
  • Westmount
  • Assumption B
  • Centennial CVI
  • Bethune A
  • Lisgar
  • Central A
  • Michael Power
  • TMS B
  • UFA A
  • Assumption C
  • Chaminade A
  • Bethune B
  • Martingrove
  • Oakville Trafalgar B
  • TMS A
  • UFA B
  • “Hat team”
  • KVHS
  • Oakville Trafalgar A
  • Oakwood
  • St. Michael’s
  • UCC B
  • UFA A
  • UTS B
  • White Oaks

I’ll look at the champions, Martingrove, first. Despite having the second-highest points haul, they only ended up with a raw R-value of 123% (7th overall for that stat). Their R-value was hurt by their extremely easy schedule, in which they faced the lowest-recorded strength of schedule for a complete tournament. Not only did the strength of schedule lower their R-value, but I suspect their points haul was lower than expected for at least one of these reasons:

  • With easy opponents, games were settled fairly early, allowing Martingrove to ease off.
  • Martingrove could play more loose and risk mistakes and wrong answers

Once the playoffs rolled around, they reverted back to their usual strong persona. If their playoff games were incorporated into their total R-value (which I don’t do, because of the significant play difference between prelims and playoffs), their R-value becomes 172%, which is closer to expected.

Central and UTS’ secondary players put up their usual strong performances. UTS A was part of a lions’ den in Pool A, which gave a large boost to those teams’ strength of schedule and R-value. Considering UTS’ result, this bodes well for when they bring in their true “A” team.

Hands up if you said Westmount would have the highest R-value. I knew they would be a decent team this year, but the curse of Hamilton’s strength of schedule struck again: Westmount’s SOS was at least 10% higher than any other top-flight team, including almost 60% tougher than Martingrove’s. They had to play full-throttle to keep up with all their opponents, and the combination of lots of points and a tough schedule created a perfect storm for a high R-value. Westmount deserves notice this year, but I don’t think they are yet at the echelon of UTS or Martingrove.

KVHS is probably disappointed with their final placement. They went undefeated in the morning, and as a reward, had to face UTS A in the first playoff game. They only lost to the UTS teams that day.

Lisgar had a completely new lineup from their previous national championship squad. The deep Lisgar program still produced a team that can put up the points, but three consecutive losses to Central, Martingrove, and KVHS settled their fate and gave them a good gauge for how they stack up in the national picture this year.

Chaminade is a school I know little about. They went to a few UTS events, but my only record of them is 15th at the 1999 Ontario provincials. They ended up in the top flight thanks to being the “best of the rest” in the Martingrove-dominated Pool C. I suspect the “Hat team” in that pool was an exhibition group to replace a strong team that had to drop out suddenly, but it ended up leaving the pool weak overall. Chaminade, like many other GTA teams, will have a tough go to get out of regionals with all the strong established Toronto teams.

The biggest outlier is Upper Canada College. They had an R-value of 144% and crushed the third flight, but statistically, they should have been vying for a top 8 finish. Being stuck in Pool A didn’t help, and even if they hypothetically beat Agincourt, they still would have only ended up in the second flight. I know it can be hard to judge team strength at the beginning of the year, but placing four 2017 ON playoff teams (and the B team of a fifth) together gave the unsurprising outcome of a stacked pool. Hopefully, UCC will get another tournament before provincials to see if they can do better.

I noticed an interesting comparison with the two Oakville rivals White Oaks and Oakville-Trafalgar. They were placed in the same pool with almost the same SOS and identical point tallies. Their round-robin match was decided by 10 points. They met again in the playoffs, with a 350-300 victory for White Oaks to determine 13th place. For several years, these two have faced each other regionally and provincially; it looks like it will be a paper-thin margin between them again this year.

Overall, I got the impression that this was a good tournament by UTS. The schedule issues are mostly nitpicking at this stage; for an early-year tournament, the most important thing is to see how the other teams are doing, rather than worry about final rank. There will be other Reach-style opportunities at Lisgar and possibly Westmount.

Finally, McMaster held a tournament yesterday, but I will recap that after Lisgar runs their event with those questions next week.

On distribution

A topic about topics

As teams get started for the year, a common question is “What should I be studying?” Good teams usually have a system for splitting categories among players, so what actually is important?

Ideally, there is a topic distribution. A thorough distribution usually has fixed numbers of questions for each broad subject per pack, and fixed number of questions for each subcategory over the course of a set. For example, a set might have 15 science questions per pack, with 10 geology questions spread over the twelve packs in the set. Topic distributions are well-established in the quizbowl circuits south of the border; not only does it offer guidelines on what to study, but it also organizes the submission of questions editors receive from writers.

There is no official distribution in Reach. I found this out while setting up a writing effort in 2014, and I don’t think that has changed since. I will return to that later, but I will start with my brief foray into coaching in 2012. For that year, I tried to reverse-engineer a distribution from the limited number of complete sets I had on hand at the school (the 2010-11 and 2012-13 intramural sets). The chart:

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 4.52.04 AM
Broad subject distribution of 2010 & 2012 intramural sets. Error bars are standard deviation based on amounts from each individual pack.

A brief explanation of the broad subjects:

  • Pop Culture: TV, movies, music, games, and sports. I generously lumped all books (even Twilight) with literature. The largest subcategory was sports, with about 7.1% of total question content.
  • History: Anything under the domain of history up to 2000, unless it fit more specifically into a smaller category like science or arts. I subdivided history into Canadian, US, post-Roman Europe, Ancient, and World. Europe had 6.7% of total content.
  • Science: For this case, science includes solving math problems, though I tallied them as a subcategory separate from math concepts. Some topics, like Newton discovering gravity, fell under history if I deemed it more suitable. Perhaps surprisingly to some, neither computational math nor chemistry (via elemental symbol questions) was largest; it was biology with 5.4% of total content.
  • Geography: The catch-all for identifying things on a map. Theory of geography was non-existent. There was a fairly even balance between Canadian, European, and “rest of World”, with “rest of North America” being the subcategory that lost out. I can’t recollect fully, but I think “rest of world” was largely dominated by identifying capitals, while Canadian geography got its point haul from several who-am-I questions.
  • Literature: With less than 10% of total content, even after throwing in “pop lit” and children’s books, this is the most lacking subject in the distribution. Most quizbowl distributions place literature around 20% as one of the “big three” with history and science. In the sets I reviewed, Canadian, US, and European literature combined (the rest of the world was non-existent) came to 7.1% – the same as sports.
  • “Words”: This is another catch-all for questions in which the word itself is more important than having background knowledge in a subject. The three subcategories I used were “definitions (incl. translation)”, “spelling”, and “wordplay”. “Wordplay” includes anagramming and those quirky questions where you add a letter to make a different word. For “definitions”, I was willing to place science/history/etc ones in that corresponding subject, but a lot were just things like “what does genuflect mean?” In my opinion, none of this “words” category belongs in quizzing, but it’s there.
  • Miscellaneous: The last catch-all for questions that don’t fit another subject. Provincial flowers, mixing colors, slogans, and so on. It is possible for legitimate topics to appear as “miscellaneous” (even quizbowl accounts for this), but I’m not holding my breath for questions on administration, shop class, nursing, and other studied material that fall between the subject cracks.
  • R/M/P: This is a quizbowl clumping. It stands for “religion, mythology, and philosophy”, which are topics that can often overlap. “Religion” in this case refers to practices and beliefs; events (such as the life of Buddha or the 95 Theses) usually fall under history. Dominated by identifying Greco-Roman gods, the mythology subcategory leads the way with 2.6% of total content.
  • Fine Arts: This category has your visual (painting, sculpture, etc) and auditory (music, opera, etc) arts. Smaller topics like dance, architecture, and certain films find their way in as well. Music is slightly favored over visual art in the sets I reviewed, but the subject as a whole is fairly small.
  • Current Events: Topics after 2000 that wouldn’t be considered “pop culture” or sports are found here. It ended up being fairly evenly split between politics and other newsworthy events. This is a subject that can be difficult to “study” for; it tends to require a habit of being world-aware.
  • Social Science: Got an interest in economics, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, or dozens of other social sciences? Too bad.

Take all this with a grain of salt. It is only a sample size of 2 sets, and sets do evolve as the difficulty and years change – a modern Nationals set is not likely to have much wordplay, for example. However, it is still reasonable to expect that the “big 3” of Reach will be pop culture, history, and science this year.

When I wrote in 2014, I used the following distribution:

  • 19.3% History. I tried a roughly even split between Canada/US/Europe (all eras)/World, but shifting some US to Europe.
  • 19.3% Science. No computational math. I restricted questions on elements to not make any reference to their symbol, except possibly as a gimme at the end of a what-am-I or long question.
  • 17.9% Literature. This was my weakest subject, but it needed a big boost from what existed.
  • 12.9% Pop culture. Sports was toned down to balance out with movies, TV, music, and games.
  • 8.6% Geography
  • 5.7% Fine arts
  • 5% R/M/P
  • 4.3% Current events. So much for that category when my questions started showing up three years after the fact.
  • 2.1% Social sciences
  • 5% miscellaneous. No “words”. Usually, “miscellaneous” became a multi-clue question that spanned several different subjects (like how “blue” appears in science, literature, or music, for example).

It should be noted that the list above is what I submitted. Editorial control determined what topics appeared in question sets, and it needed to accommodate questions from other authors.

I don’t know the future of a distribution in Reach. Ever since quizbowl showed up, there have been rumours of players trying to adapt the topics, but rarely do they get to the point of writing and submitting. Quizbowl writing is a more lucrative venture, which discourages any new talent from coming in at Reach. There is also the problem that the majority of customers would resist change, even a change to better reflect a school curriculum (when was the last time you used anagrams or Drake in class?).

For now, if you’re looking for something to study, find the biggest topic no one else on your team is covering. That’s the best bet. How to study is another matter…