Illinois Scholastic Bowl

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Scholastic Bowl in Illinois is played by over 500 high schools and 400 middle schools. It traditionally has been governed by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA), and from roughly 1986-2006 most of its high school tournaments were played under IHSA Rules. The history of quizbowl in Illinois is very confusing, since it includes many mistakes at the same time as genuine progress.


Little Quizbowl on the Prairie (1960s-1985)

Quizbowl in Illinois can be traced back at least as far back as the 1960s, and was originally more popular in Downstate Illinois than in the Chicago area. One of the first tournaments in the state to gain notability was the Senior Challenge held in Streator, which was open only to high school seniors. Questions were written by locals, and lockout systems were homemade. Local businesses sponsored the tournament, which was organized by the local Rotary Club.

Certainly, there were other tournaments, with each tournament having a unique twist to their format. This became the key thread running through Illinois quizbowl throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s: there was no universal set of rules.

IHSA Consensus Years (1986-2007)

By 1985, the popularity of the activity was notable enough for numerous coaches and school administrators to petition the IHSA for formal recognition as a competitive activity. With recognition came a codification of the rules, and the recognition of a state champion. All teams competed in one class until 1991, and were placed into 16 geographic sectional tournaments. The 16 winners of those tournaments advanced to a single elimination tournament.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, IHSA Scholastic Bowl grew tremendously, with new teams, conferences, and tournaments forming every year. From the mid 1980s through the early 2000s, though there was some disagreement as to whether or not tossups should be pyramidal, there generally was agreement that matches should follow IHSA format and that tournaments should use morning pools with single-elimination afternoons, though occasionally tournaments did experiment with other formats.

The Schism Years (2007-2017)

As some of Illinois' better teams became more exposed to "good quizbowl" through and tournaments hosted by the University of Illinois, NAQT, and PACE, they became vocal proponents for change. The changes sought included improved question quality, bonus parts being read one at a time, increases in the number of matches guaranteed to teams entering tournaments, the elimination of single-elimination tournament formats, and the reduction or elimination of computation, grammar, and most miscellaneous topics. While IHSSBCA generally supported these changes, many coaches, including a majority on the IHSA Advisory Committee generally did not, leading several top teams to put a higher value on national tournaments and invitationals than Illinois' state tournaments (though the teams that did not value the State Tournaments were dominant at them because they learned more by playing tournaments in other formats). During this time, several Illinois invitationals became a mirror of tournaments from out of state, starting with Auburn's mirror of HFT. By 2010, a majority of invitationals in Illinois did not use IHSA format, with mACF becoming more popular. By about 2014, almost all Illinois tournaments followed the major elements of "good quizbowl". Some people believed that this schism pitted the Chicago suburbs against downstate, though in reality opinions varied throughout the state. For its 2013 tournament, IHSA switched to reading one bonus part at a time.

The End of History (2017-)

In 2017, the IHSA engaged Brad Fischer as their new head editor, which all but assured a permanent transition to pyramidal questions and an acceptable distribution. By this point, very many high school matches in Illinois used high-quality pyramidal questions and reasonable rules, and tournaments used formats appropriate for their size.

As with many activities, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was greatly felt across Illinois scholastic bowl. However, unlike many sports that were left to severely reduce seasons or opt-out altogether, scholastic bowl remained viable in a virtual or hybrid setting. Albeit, in various formats, Illinois did see quiz bowl tournaments & some local competition successfully take place online during the 2020-21 season. During this time some programs in fact saw increases in recruitment and involvement they would not have otherwise seen given the limited number of extracurricular activities available for students that normally had competed with their programs for interest. Another benefit of the virtual format was the ability for teams to get exposure to other teams that they may not otherwise compete with due to travel limitations. The success and enthusiasm of Illinois programs to stay active during this time led to the IHSA permitting an altered State series and became all the more evident when many Illinois teams were ranked going into national competition or made up the field compared to other states. This carried over to the playoffs, where both 2021 HSNCT & SSNCT championships featured all-Illinois matchups. Perhaps those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic however were middle school teams who in 2020 were still only halfway through their seasons and had the next two state tournaments canceled with many teams opting out of competing altogether in 2021.

Despite having seen steady growth in the activity before the pandemic, involvement in scholastic bowl has seemed to wane. This a trend that has been felt across quiz bowl and is not unique to Illinois with both iterations of the IESA, IHSA, & Masonic State tournaments after the pandemic seeing less participation than before ([1]). Additionally, a series of administrative changes at the University of Illinois during the pandemic created new roadblocks for university RSOs from hosting events involving minors, making it effectively impossible for UIUC to host high school tournaments and bringing an end to long-running competitions such as the UIUC Earlybird. As UIUC-hosted tournaments drew teams not only from Central Illinois, but also from the Chicago metropolitan area and beyond (including far-flung teams such as DCC and Wayzata), the participation of many teams in the region at Saturday tournaments has decreased due to the reduction of options within close driving distance.

Notable annual tournaments

A complete list of tournaments in Illinois can be found on the IHSSBCA's site. Notable recurring tournaments include the following:

  • Earlybird - October - Formerly a housewrite by UIUC and more recently using questions from different sources each year, this tournament is usually the first tournament of the season, though it has been on hiatus since the pandemic.
  • IHSSBCA Novice - October - hosted in several locations across the state, this tournament allows students who did not achieve certain levels of success to compete against each other. It uses the SCOP set.
  • mirror of ACF Fall - October - usually hosted in northern Illinois, such as at Rockford Auburn
  • Scobol Solo - October or November - it is a solo contest attracting over 100 top players each year.
  • IHSSBCA Kickoff - mid-November - hosted in several locations across the state, this tournament used to mark the "start" of the season, but several tournaments have arisen prior to its usual date. Combined across sites, it has the largest turnout of any tournament except for the IHSA and Masonic series.
  • Pretzel Tournament at New Berlin - December
  • Reinstein Varsity - last Saturday before Winter Break - Started in 2005 by Carlo Angiuli and Nick Matchen at New Trier, this was a housewrite but is now a mirror
  • Macomb Rotary - January
  • Ultima at Loyola Academy - formerly held in October and then moved to January, which used to use the format of the Panasonic Academic Challenge before switching to mACF format
  • Knights' Challenge at Auburn - former housewrite with Frosh/Soph and middle school divisions
  • Piasa Bird Invitational at Southwestern
  • Barron Robinson Tournament at Springfield - January tournament with varsity and JV divisions
  • FROSTBITE at Granite City - late January
  • Winnebago Invitational - late January or early February
  • Masonic tournament - mid-February - many sectionals are held across the state, followed two weeks later by the state finals. This used to be in IHSA format, but now uses a format unique to itself featuring bonuses that are not bonuses.
  • NAQT State - late February - moved from Fenton to Bloomington in 2013 and then to Champaign
  • IHSA - early to mid March. Single-elimination regionals are held at 32 sites per class across the state, with the winners advancing to round-robin sectionals at 8 sites per class, the winners of which go on to State.

Many people traditionally considered the IHSA State Series to crown the state champion, though the tournament's use of geographic sectionals with one team advancing, random pools at State, and a single-elimination final makes it more reasonable to consider the IHSA Champion to be a state champion rather than the state champion. The Masonic tournament, while older than the IHSA Tournament (starting in 1983), has been regarded as a lesser championship due to the smaller pool of teams playing (about 300 teams, compared to about 500 in the IHSA tournaments). Masonics also uses a match format of 6 tossups, 8 alternating team questions, 6 tossups, 8 alternating team questions, and 4 tossups, which is not used by any other tournament in the world. (The team questions are structured like bonus questions usually are structured, with the exception that control of them is not earned.) NAQT State draws fewer teams than several invitationals. When you put it all together, nobody knows who the Illinois State Champion is.

Famous/Infamous collegiate players

Notable former players who are famous for something else

External Links

  • IHSSBCA Web Site[5]
  • IHSA Scholastic Bowl page[6]
  • IHSA Scholastic Bowl Champions and Tournament Results [7]
  • For an example of why people make fun of Illinois Scholastic Bowl, try [8]