George Mason High’s Scholastic Bowl team will be competing for the state championship this weekend, hitting the road tonight for the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where the competition will occur.
“I think the prospect’s of winning states is very promising,” said the team’s head coach, James Scharff, told the News-Press today. Scharff teaches social studies at Mason and has coached the team since 1999.
Under his tenure, the Mustangs have gone to states every year for the past 11 years, placing in the top five for Group A schools seven times, with more victories closer to home at the regional and district level. The team went to one national tournament in 2007 in Chicago, winding up in third-place among small schools nationwide. “We also qualified for the tournament for bigger schools, and placed 40th among schools much larger than us,” Scharff said.
Though the Bull Run District tournament was cancelled due to snow this month, Scharff’s eight academic competitors took on schools at the Virginia High School League (VHSL) Region B tournament, beating Clarke County in the third and again in the final round, to take the regional championship.
Now, both Mason and Clarke County are advancing to the states, where schools from the other three small school regions will converge at William and Mary Saturday morning for competition.
The Mason team consists of three seniors — Katie Buenneke, Mary Ma and Jonathan Ross — and five juniors, Jakob Hand, team captain Asher Morse, Jonathan Ross, Anuraag Sensharma, Crawford Taylor and Ross Wilson.
During regular season play beginning in September, the team practiced on average twice a week, Scharff said. However, with the busy schedule of weekday tournaments and the upcoming state competition, the team has met weekly to brush up on sample questions Scharff acquired from the group of writers who will craft the questions for the state tournament.
The questions range in topics from ancient history to modern literature, from chemistry to opera, and with practice and a year’s worth of competitions, the buzzers are going off constantly at one of the team’s pre-states practices.
“It was a rebuilding year for us,” said Scharff. “We lost some seniors last year, so we had to build this team up, and eventually the core of eight kids developed that has been competing in these competitions.”
“I would say this is perhaps the strongest team we’ve had yet,” he added.
At states, the Mustangs will engage their first opponent, Lebanon High School from Southwestern Virginia, Saturday morning in a three-round match. Two rounds will consist of toss-up questions either team can take by buzzing in first, and then, in between, there is a directed questions round, with 10 questions asked directly to the team.
Success is rewarded with 10 points, with no penalty in the directed questions round, where the opposing team will have a chance to answer the question. In the toss-up round, however, wrong answers lose the team five points.
Scharff said he’s confident the team will succeed with the state-level questions. “Our kids have a pretty broad range of knowledge,” he said.
Katie Buenneke, who’s been with the team for three years, said she’s excited to head to states again. “There’s this unique feeling I get whenever I answer a question correctly. It’s a little high when I get the feeling, ‘I know this! I know the answer!'” she told the News-Press.
Round One of the VHSL state tournament kicks off at 10:25 a.m. Saturday, with game play till 4 or 5 p.m. followed by an awards ceremony.
The Mason Scholastic Bowl’s season and post-season results are available online on the Mason athletic web site.