The 1979 National Final

Back when J.R. wasn’t shot yet.

This week, I’m trying something a little different. Thanks to people that have saved old tapes, some Reach for the Top games are available online. Today, I’ll give commentary on the 1979 National Final game.

The 1979 national tournament took place in Montréal and was broadcast by CBC. Bill Guest was the host, and Paul Russell was one of the judges.

The 1979 Final pitted the northern Ontario champion, Dryden HS, against the southern Ontario champion, Banting Memorial HS. Dryden HS, from Dryden, is no stranger to the final – the team and their (I assume) captain Brad lost the 1977 and 1978 finals. They’d be eager to break that “slump”, and got to the final by defeating Lorne Jenken (AB) in the quarters and Cobequid (NS) in the semis (both Reach champs). Banting, from Alliston, is less experienced on the national stage, but benefited from a weaker draw that only saw Gonzaga (NL) as a real threat. The database page for the 1979 tournament is here.

Note: video of this match was uploaded by 1978 champion Dino Zincone here, but beware that it is a Flash video with a bloated file size and might not be safe for all browsers.

1979 National Final start
Northern Ontario (Dryden) against Southern Ontario (Banting Memorial)

Questions 1-8 are assigned to one player at a time (with no bounceback to the other team). The Russian literature category leads to a lot of Pushkin guesses, and teams end it tied 20-20.

Team scrambles were slightly different then. The scramble was worth 5 points, and there are four questions exclusive to the winning team. Brad made an anticipatory buzz during “what is the capital of…” and correctly assumed the reader would continue with “…Ethiopia”. Their exclusive questions were much more difficult, but they got 20 of the 40 points about Eritrean independence and the Ogaden War. 45-20 Dryden.

The next four questions were audio samples of artists up for Junos that year. Banting swept it to take the lead. Brad responded by 40-ing the “What am I” about polo. 85-60 Dryden.

Banting tidies up on questions about medical terms, then Eric casually answers “asbestos” for a team scramble (no mention of health effects…). By question 28, the score is 125-85 Banting.

Four visual questions about 20th century art goes mostly dead, including one to identify the artist when the signature is in view…

Bible, Marc Chagall, Verve 33-34
I wonder who created this?

Another batch of eight assigned questions. This set, about anagramming phrases into names, is also done differently: the first players of each team compete on the buzzer to answer two questions, followed by the next two players, and so on. Brad nails both of his and helps get Dryden back to a 115-145 score at the ad break.

Banting has the edge on the snappers after the break, but Jim (Dryden) solves math sequences and Brad almost sweeps a set of questions on Montréal’s bridges. Banting is barely holding on to a 195-185 lead.

Brad knows local bridges and tightens the score.

A list question is next. It takes an interesting twist from the modern version. There are many more answers available, but the first person to buzz earns just 5 points per answer. A player from the second team can then buzz to earn 10 points for any remaining answers. Might make for some odd tactics – do you let a weaker team go first and hope they only answer 2 or 3, or do you rush in and try to exhaust the list for fewer points? Anyway, neither happened here for this list of the nine muses: Brad gets one for 5 points, and Paul gets one for 10 points. What a letdown.

The deflation may have shifted “momentum” in Banting’s favour. They make quick work of a team scramble about kinetic energy to give themselves a nice cushion for the endgame. Brad picks up 30 points between the classical music and religious books categories, but they enter the final snapper round with a Banting lead of 250-220.

Brad destroys the buzzer during the snappers. Figuratively, of course: there is no doubt that his buzzer was still functional at the end of the game. Brad buzzed in first in all but one of the 16 snappers… and only got five. Meanwhile, Banting collectively earned six snappers while buzzing in second each time. Final score, Banting Memorial 310, Dryden 270. Banting is the 1979 Reach for the Top national champion.

1979 Final score
That face when you’ve lost three straight finals…

Analysis of this game comes down to one thing: Brad’s buzzing. Brad’s trigger-happy finger probably cost the game; over the course of the match, Banting picked up 185 points by buzzing second to Brad. That’s more than half their score! Dryden’s team was incorrect 39 of their 64 buzzes, though some of it was guessing at the end of the question. Banting, meanwhile, was much more calm on the buzzer (20 incorrect of 52) and didn’t let Dryden pick up any points from second buzzes. A little more discipline probably could have swung three questions (and the title) Dryden’s way. I though Dryden should have had picked up more experience from their past tournaments, but instead we see the heartbreak of losing three straight finals. Neither team really impressed me with their knowledge base: Brad’s pickups on Ethiopian wars and Montréal roadworks were good, but both teams left a lot of questions dead that probably would have been taken by stronger teams from earlier in the decade. Based on scores, Cobequid was possibly the strongest team in the field, but I haven’t been able to see the match where Dryden eliminated them.

Both finalists disappeared from the national scene after this match. Banting played a bit into the SchoolReach era, but no longer competes. Dryden ending up losing northern Ontario titles to Roland Michener and Renfrew over the rest of the CBC era, and isolation from any major urban centres probably stopped them from subscribing to SchoolReach. Among other teams in the tournament, Gonzaga, Lorne Jenken, and Oak Bay had all won titles before, while Cobequid would go on to win two years later (and also in 2005).

I hope this was an interesting look at “old” Reach. I will probably do this again, considering the decent number of games out there and the time to fill in the offseason.