The 1979 National Final

Back when J.R. wasn’t shot yet.

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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.

Comeback
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.

2017 Nationals Results

Lights! Camera! Inaction!

Last weekend, UTS and the University of Toronto hosted the 49th* national championship of Reach for the Top. 16 teams from seven provinces had a full day of round-robin competition before vying for the title in the playoffs.

*Reach claimed it was the 51st, but only 49 championship seasons have occurred due to the stoppages after the CBC era.

The full results are uploaded here. Lisgar CI claimed their third national title in a close 460-410 final over the University of Toronto Schools; it was an anticipated clash of titans and a rematch of the provincial title which UTS won. My rundown of the teams, in order of rank (note: for this tournament, I broke standings ties by round-robin seed):

  • Auburn Drive (16th). Nova Scotia’s clubs were greatly hindered by job action this year; only five teams went to provincials. Let’s hope this year was only a blip and that teams can have more support next year. As for this particular team, I never saw them until their final consolation game. They kept close with SJHS in the first half and won an excruciatingly long shootout, but saw their tournament end there.
  • Rundle College (15th). Schedule quirkiness meant I saw Rundle for 9 of the 15 preliminary games and became their unintended fan club. As a surprise invite from their fourth-place finish in Alberta, expectations were not high. Their top player will return next year, so hopefully they can build from this experience for another shot at Nationals.
  • St. Paul’s (14th). I think there was a different line-up between provincials and nationals, because the Manitoba champs fell short of the other teams from their province. Hopefully this means the school has a large pool of players to choose from, and can re-assemble for another provincial title run next year.
  • Collingwood (13th). This rank will simply go down as “oops”. They temporarily disappeared after one of their consolation losses and defaulted a win to lower-seeded Saint John. They would have been in contention for the consolation bracket title otherwise.
  • Saint John (12th). They got a lucky break from Collingwood, but ended up fourth of the final four consolation teams. They will be in tough to qualify for nationals next year, because the competition for second in New Brunswick is very tight. Interestingly, I only ever saw them win: in the round-robin over Rundle and the playoffs over Auburn Drive.
  • Marianopolis (11th). This team was a bit weaker than some CEGEP teams of the past, but they pulled one of the few upsets in the playoffs with a second-round consolation win over Renert.
  • St. John’s-Ravenscourt (10th). Just getting to nationals was impressive: Horton’s drop-out meant that SJR organized a team trip from Winnipeg less than a week before the tournament. They didn’t show too much rust and even managed to beat their provincial champions in the round-robin!
  • Renert (9th). Renert & Co. did improve from last year. Their highlight was either almost defeating KV or getting the most games of any team by taking the long route to get to the consolation bracket title. A tournament MVP came from this team (I don’t mention names due to a blog-wide policy of keeping players anonymous).
  • Old Scona (8th). Unlike their provincial compatriots, Old Scona did pull off a win over KV, but fell back to eighth seed by the end of Saturday. Eighth seed unfortunately meant an early match with UTS, where even a 480-240 loss to them would be considered a good result.
  • Sir Winston Churchill (7th). They seemed, on paper at least, to be the strongest team from BC, even though Collingwood beat them in both the provincial final and the round-robin match (they won the play-in match over Collingwood, though). They led UTS going into the final snapout of their match, but couldn’t pull off what would have been the biggest upset of the tournament. Their mix of ups and downs averaged them out to the middle of the pack.
  • Templeton (6th). For a team’s first appearance at Nationals (either in a long while or ever – not sure), they did very well. They almost beat Martingrove in the round robin and finished as the highest-placing BC team. Considering that they were nowhere even on the provincial scene before this, they would certainly be the “most improved” team. A tournament MVP came from this team.
  • Kelvin (5th). R-values suggest the 5th-8th place teams have razor-thin differences in strength between them, but Kelvin got the wins. Kelvin was on my radar as the Manitoba runners-up, but I didn’t expect them to get as high as fifth. Well done, though I didn’t get to see them play. A tournament MVP came from this team.
  • Kennebecasis Valley (4th). I think that even before the tournament began, KV was destined for fourth: they weren’t quite up to the level of the Ontario teams but were definitely better than anyone else. They got within 30 points of Lisgar in the round-robin, but a loss to Old Scona almost cost them a playoff bye. The semifinal match against UTS was very impressive, though. They capitalized on UTS’ mistakes and frustrations to keep within 20 points late in the match, and nearly gave the favourites their first loss of the tournament. With good players returning, I would not be surprised to see a late-round rematch next year- perhaps even in the final for once!
  • Martingrove (3rd). Like KV, Martingrove seemed set for their final position as a step behind Lisgar and UTS. A mere 250-230 loss to UTS in the round-robin gave the Ontario champs a little scare, and they easily handled Templeton in the quarterfinal. The semifinal wasn’t pretty though: a poor run during the team scrambles sapped any momentum they had and allowed Lisgar’s MVP alone to earn more points than them. Nevertheless, they were part of the good camaraderie among the Ontario teams and hopefully they’ll show up at more tournaments next year in their quest to keep their Nationals attendance streak alive.
  • UTS (2nd). UTS was my pick as the strongest team on paper, despite what the R-value said. They swept the round-robin while rarely fielding their true A-team; it cost them a few extra points, but who needs points for seeding when you’re 15-0? Unfortunately, the team was mired in production difficulties in both of their final-day matches. They were not on top of their game and only narrowly beat KV before taking the loss in the final. I think the delays and frustrations ate away at them, but they also had to deal with Lisgar’s MVP getting a second wind on the last day. It was a very good final match, and they had a great season overall (including a 6-1 record across formats over Lisgar A). They should be just as strong next year, so best of luck for another title run!
  • Lisgar (1st). Best ever regional result. Best ever provincial (round-robin) result. 2nd best ever national (round-robin) result. Analytically, this title is not a surprise. Realistically, it was anything but. The team played sick (barely getting to the stage) and they entered the playoffs knowing they had taken nothing but losses to UTS all year. There was not a lot of optimism among them for the final morning. However, that semifinal was a much-needed boost in confidence and set them up for a stellar (minus the 25-minute delay) final. Who needs shootout wins anyway? While Lisgar’s MVP (also selected as a tournament MVP) returns, no one else does, so this was expected to be Lisgar’s last chance for a while. They got the title, and now they can go back to their regularly-scheduled programming of quizbowl.

A great tournament by all the teams. The matches I saw both in-room and on-stage were great to watch, even if I ended up rooting for the Rundle underdog half the time.

The tournament organization was pretty good. Logistics has never been a problem for Reach, and for their price tag, you expect the perks and efficiencies. Games were on time, staff were prepared, food was ready, and results were prompt. Sunday’s stage games were also well done, even if there was an audience of just me and the coaches at times.

Unfortunately, Monday was a mess. The small change from SchoolReach to Reach for the Top – filming the event – was a world of difference for the negative. Floodlights blew the breakers in the first game and wrecked a buzzer. The need to announce players on the replacement buzzers forced a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” scene where a person hid behind a banner to identify the light that went off. Pre-games became fidgety with ridiculous insert shots of buzzing, applause, and phony reactions. Games stopped twice when camera SD cards filled. Most notoriously, the delay of “reviewing the tapes” (rather than using a tried-and-tested method south of the border of leniency on vowel pronunciation) dragged the final into a 90-minute affair. UTS’ auditorium is not a television studio. Reach needs to either get back to a real TV production or start embracing less intrusive broadcast options, like Twitch or Youtube streaming. Disrupting players for the sake of pretty video (that will never come to light) shows a complete disregard for what should be the most important part of these tournaments – the academic performance of the players. UTS was definitely compromised by the production, and while I don’t dispute the title, I think we were robbed of an even better final. I know some changes will be underway at Reach, and I hope the Monday routine is part of that.

The final gala was good, though. Much more concise and meaningful than some of the provincial galas.

But I shouldn’t let my rambling detract from recognizing the most important things: the players who all showed excellent skill, teamwork, and friendliness; the coaches who coordinate not only the management of a strong team but the logistics of getting them to events; and the volunteer staff who keep the games going in a timely manner.

To those graduating, best wishes for your post-secondary pursuits (hey, try quizbowl). For those returning, good luck in your title run!

Finally, a blog note: this is, obviously, the end of the Reach season. For the off-season, my priorities are an explanation of the R-value (and follow-ups with old provincial analysis), a look at some historical games, and an updated Reach champion ranking, which I last did in 2015. Stay tuned!

2017 Nationals brief results

At least the table’s up.

I’ll be brief because of my quick turnaround time after leaving Toronto, but I will provide more information on the weekend.

16 teams from across Canada descended on Toronto last weekend to determine the Reach for the Top national champion. Teams played a full round-robin, followed by championship and consolation playoffs.

Lisgar CI defeated the University of Toronto Schools 460-410 in the final. The full preliminary table, as well as all playoff games, have been added to the database. This is Lisgar’s third national title.

Congratulations to all of the teams and participants in the National championships. It represented a year of hard work for everyone, and all of the teams should be proud of their performances. Best of luck in the pursuits that lie ahead!

2017 Nationals preview

Horton hears a Who-am-I!

After a quick turnaround from Ontario provincials, the Reach for the Top national championship will be decided next weekend. Sixteen teams have been invited from across Canada to compete in Toronto for a title that has passed between schools for more than fifty years. Those teams (sorted by province):

British Columbia

Collingwood School

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

Sir Winston Churchill SS

  • Most recent national result: 11th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 5th (2008)

Templeton SS

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

Two new teams from BC this year. I thought Templeton may have earned one appearance in the mid-2000s, but I have no records for that period. Meanwhile, Sir Winston Churchill is a very regular qualifier, though they have struggled to get out of the bottom half this decade. I have no information about the BC competition, but at least one team from the province has made top 6 with >100% R-value in almost every year of the past decade. New teams are very much an unknown: will a lack of experience hurt them, or are they a surprise that comes out of nowhere?

Alberta

Old Scona Academic School

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

The Renert School

  • Most recent national result: 15th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 15th (2016)

Rundle College

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

Old Scona leads the Alberta cohort again with yet another Nationals qualification; they are probably the best modern era program to not win a title (yet). Despite all the appearances, they are often stuck in the 5th-8th range indicative of quarterfinal losses. Renert School gave a close match in the Alberta final, but they would need a big improvement from last year to make some noise in their second appearance. Rundle College is actually the 4th-place Alberta team after the third finisher dropped; I think they will looking for just a few wins as a goal.

Manitoba

St. Paul’s HS

  • Most recent national result: 8th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 3rd (2010)

Kelvin HS

  • Most recent national result: 7th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (1970)

Note: Kelvin’s best result in the modern era is likely their 4th place in 2003. Manitoba is a very active province (for its population) in SchoolReach, and that has fostered good competition as far back as the early CBC years. In recent years, the two Manitoba teams usually make the quarterfinals, and I would not be surprised to see a similar result this year.

Ontario

University of Toronto Schools

  • Most recent national result: 3rd (2015)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2002-03, 2012-13)

Lisgar CI

  • Most recent national result: 3rd (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2008, 2015)

Martingrove CI

  • Most recent national result: 5th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 1st (2014)

These three Ontario teams will enter as favourites. Lisgar is fresh off of record R-values at the regional and provincial level, while UTS got through a tough playoff run after an unexpected low seed. Martingrove is a step below, but this is their fifth consecutive Nationals appearance, which is no small feat in the fierce Ontario competition. I think a UTS-Lisgar final is likely, but both teams have had surprise losses in the last 15 months at various levels of competition (the UTS regional loss last year being most noticeable). Watch out for one of these teams to break Kennebecasis Valley’s national R-value record of 145%, set in 2010.

Quebec

Marianopolis College

  • Most recent national result: 9th (2016)
  • Best national result (on file): 5th (2014)

My previous opinions on CEGEPs in Reach still hold. That being said, I respect that the team is legitimately competing. Unfortunately, CEGEP team compositions are entirely new each year, and without current results from the provincial tournament, I have no way to measure how strong the team is.

New Brunswick

Kennebecasis Valley HS

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

Saint John HS

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

Kennebecasis Valley will defend their national title in their record-continuing twelfth consecutive national appearance. They lost some players to graduation, but their incredible consistency in fostering talented players means that the squad is the best challenger to the Ontario juggernauts this year. I think they should still at least make the semis. Despite often finishing highly in New Brunswick, I think this is Saint John HS’s first national appearance; they just always got locked out by Fredericton in the ’90s and KV in the ’00s before Reach started awarding a second invitation.

Nova Scotia

Auburn Drive HS

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

Horton HS

  • Most recent national result: 10th (2007)
  • Best national result (on file): 3rd (1998)

Nova Scotia is a blast from the past this year! Both teams return after a decade’s absence, with different histories. Auburn Drive had one good year in 2008, then got stuck in the provincial midfield with Cobequid and the other HRM teams dominating. Horton, meanwhile, is reviving their club from a dormancy since 2010; before that, they were the team to beat in the province in the ’90s and early ’00s. Cobequid’s run of national appearances (all but one year since 2009) has ended with a third place in the provincial competition.

And those are the 16 teams. Everyone plays each other in the lengthy Saturday round-robin, which will seed teams for the Sunday/Monday playoffs (nearly every game is played individually, so the playoff process takes time). I foresee the quarterfinals containing the three Ontario teams, KV, Old Scona, and a team each from BC and Manitoba. The final quarterfinal spot is a tossup between Marianopolis or a second team from BC/Manitoba. Lisgar will probably get the highest R-value, but they have a history of faltering in critical playoff games: they have won 8 of their 18 semifinal/3rd place/final matches at the provincial and national levels (UTS has won 30 of 46 and Martingrove 10 of 16, in comparison).

I will be at Nationals. Thanks (and a disclosure) for the Lisgar team providing transportation during my sleeping hours. Despite the registration form, I will not act for Lisgar (or Reach) in any capacity; I will be an independent observer. This also means R-values will be delayed, but I will provide what updates and scores I can through the Twitter hashtag #ReachNats17

Good luck to all the competing teams!