Lisgar reaches for national championship

Taylor Turner,

Taylor Turner,

Lisgar Collegiate’s senior Reach team practices for the National championship in Edmonton. Members are left to right, Nevin Hotson, Chris Greenwood, Celia Byrne, Jeff Gao, and Patrick Liao.

Hard work and lots of practice is really paying off for the Lisgar Collegiate Reach team as five students are heading to Edmonton to compete in the national Reach for the Top championship.

The senior team of five students from grades 9 to 12 has been practicing for the competition twice a week since September. With the help of a teacher adviser and a volunteer coach, the team runs through questions about everything from popular culture to mathematics to prepare for the Jeopardy-like academic quiz competition in which teams of high school students compete with each other to answer random questions. Each team member has his or her own buzzer and the first to ring in gets to answer the question. Should that student answer incorrectly the rest of the team is locked out until the opponent has a chance to answer.   

After a close second-place finish at the provincial championships, the team earned a spot in its first-ever national competition. Adrenaline is running high for the young competitors as they prepare for three days of quizzing in Edmonton.

Nevin Hotson, one of the older members of the team, says it’s important to stay focused heading in to what will be the team’s greatest challenge to date.

“We don’t really know what to expect,” he said. “We’re feeling fairly confident after provincials but we don’t really know much about the other teams.”

One of Lisgar’s main competitors will likely be the University of Toronto Schools, a team that Lisgar staff adviser Ruth Crabtree jokingly refers to as her team’s “archrival.”

“We’ll be given a run for our money from the Toronto school,” she said. UTS narrowly beat out Lisgar at the provincials, but not due to lack of talent, according to Hotson.

“We need to work on our buzzer speed,” he said. “We know as much if not more than other schools but we’re a little slow on speed.”

Other Ottawa schools including Merivale and Gloucester have won the prestigious national competition in the past, and while Lisgar hopes to continue the tradition, Crabtree says it’s about much more than winning.

“They’re mostly modest and quiet students,” she said. “So this definitely boosts their self-esteem because this is an area where they can really shine.”

Although each of the five team members has an area of expertise or a favourite subject, each of the individual buzzers are consistently in use as all of the students can answer questions ranging from computers, to European history, to math, to literature.

Notson believes being such a “well-balanced” team will help Lisgar on the national stage.

What each member derives from his or her Reach experience is as varied as the team’s subject knowledge. For Hotson it’s the chance to “test your knowledge” and “meet a lot of interesting people” while Jeff Gao, another Grade 12 team member enjoys “the sense of competition.”

Most important for the students, Reach is fun and allows them to work together as a team while expanding their individual knowledge.

“It’s like watching Jeopardy,” said Chris Greenwood, another member of the team. “Only you can actually play it.”

No matter what happens at nationals, the students will always have a devoted fan in Crabtree who has been teaching at Lisgar since 1997. A few years ago she was approached by a group of students interested in starting a Reach team. They began competing in 2000 and the rest is history.

“I’m amazingly proud of them,” she said. “They’ve been a strong team for years but this year has been a real breakthrough.”

Crabtree says each year interest in the team grows and although half of the senior team will be graduating this year there have been quite a few “keen” and “promising” grade nines who can carry on the Reach legacy.

The Lisgar team will return from Edmonton May 27. Other team members are Celia Byrne and Patrick Liao.