The Illinois High School Association governs many sports and activities in Illinois, including Illinois Scholastic Bowl.
The IHSA was founded in 1900, and is the second oldest (Wisconsin) state high school athletic/activities governing organization.
The IHSA started sponsoring a Scholastic Bowl State Tournament in 1986-7, with Quincy beating Salem in the first ever Championship Match. In 1991-92, IHSA split into two classes, with Rockridge winning the first Class A (small school) Championship.
The IHSA claims that it is a private organization, with almost 800 member schools, and a small number of affiliate and approved schools who do not hold full membership.
The highest authority of the IHSA is the Board of Directors. The Board consists of ten principals, one each from the seven geographical districts determined long ago by the IHSA, and three "at-large" positions which are voted statewide and reserved for a woman, an underrepresented ethnic minority, and a private school. The Board also appoints a principal to a non-voting Treasurer position.
The operation of the IHSA is charged to an Executive Director and a team of (currently nine) Assistant Executive Directors (AED). Each assistant executive director is given direct oversight of a number of sports and activities (in addition to other responsibilities). In 2017, Scholastic Bowl was given a new AED, Kraig Garber.
Each sport and activity has its own Advisory Committee (AdCo). The committee is chaired by the sport/activity's respective AED, and includes a representative from each of the IHSA's seven districts. While most of the representatives are head coaches, one is always an athletic or activities director. In sports, one seat is usually reserved for an official. The IHSA Scholastic Bowl AdCo does not have a seat reserved for an official, however, some time after 2010, the chief question editor, and the supervisor of officials for the State Tournament were elevated to voting positions on the AdCo, after being non-voting invitees for many years. The Scholastic Bowl AdCo meets once each year in closed session, usually in late April or early May.
The AdCo meets and debates changes to rules (which govern the game) and terms and conditions (which govern state tournament structure). The committee can vote on changes, which the AED then brings to the Board of Directors. In general, the Board of Directors will rubber stamp the recommendations, but since this is a closed session, it is difficult to determine what happens in these approval meetings. In both 2012 and 2013, the Board of Directors rejected the elimination of language arts questions despite that having been approved by the committee in both years.
While most sports have case manuals to assist coaches and officials to interpret rules published by that sport's respective national federation, the lack of an organization for quiz bowl means non existed for Scholastic Bowl. Around 2002, a Case Manual was assembled by a handful of officials, and is published by the IHSA. The AdCo also oversees changes to that book.
From its inception, and into the 21st century, IHSA State matches (and thus many local tournament and conference matches) used the "IHSA Format". This can be summed up as:
- 10 point tossups (no negs or powers)
- Bonuses could bounceback to the other team.
- Teams got ten seconds to answer after a tossup was done being read (30 seconds for computational questions).
- Bonuses were worth a maximum of 20 points. Bonuses could be four parts (5 points each), five parts (4 points each), or three parts (6 points for a team getting any one part right, 13 for getting any two parts right, and 20 for all three
- Bonus parts were read all at once, with teams getting up to 30 seconds to confer on all of the parts.
Additionally, there were other strange behavior rules that included the requirement that players put pencils down when time was called on a bonus (a rule that persists in Illinois Middle School competition). The only remaining odd behavior rule is the requirement that teams appearing in IHSA competitions must wear matching shirts that also must adhere to certain requirements of decorum. If a team fields a player lacking a proper matching top, their opponent is given 30 points to start the match.
Over time, due to concerted efforts by players, coaches, and former players, these rules were changed to become somewhat more aligned with national rules. In 2012-13, IHSA switched to a bonus format similar to NSC in which bonus parts are read one part at a time, and each bonus has three parts worth ten points each, with bouncebacks.
For most of its history, IHSA questions have been distributed according to six categories: Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, Fine Arts, and Miscellaneous. For most of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies were considered "major categories", with Fine Arts and Miscellaneous being considered "minor categories". When Illinois used a 30/30 match length, major categories each had 6/6 questions, with minor categories being 3/3 questions. When Illinois used 24/24 matches, major categories were each represented by 5/5, and minor categories were represented by 2/2. Each of these six categories had sub-categories which were used as guides for writers to draw questions from, though the head editor had full control of how many questions would come from each sub-category, if at all.
The IHSA distribution has traditionally had more math and computation than most other distributions in the US. For much of that time, computation was not limited to math, and at one time there was no limit at all on the number of possible computation questions. Since 2005, the amount of math and computation has been gradually curtailed, and a push to increase the amount of literature and Social Studies has brought the distribution more in line with good practice (though the math requirement remains high compared to most states).
The Language Arts category traditionally had a much larger distribution of grammar, spelling, and speech. These sub-categories was also eventually whittled away, leaving a stronger "Literature" category in use today.
The Miscellaneous questions are known for very quirky sub-categories, including "Agriculture", "Drivers Ed", "Health", "Home Economics", "Pop Culture", and "Industrial Arts". The set editor has complete control over which sub-categories are written about. In the past, there was a concerted effort to represent all areas, which led to poor questions in order to satisfy a sub-distribution. The "Interdisciplinary" subcategory under Miscellaneous allows for more academic content to be represented.
The current distribution of 24/24 (and sub-distributions):
- 4/4 Social Studies (1/1 Geography, 1/1 Religion, 1/1 Mythology, and 1/1 Social Sciences)
- 4/4 History
- 4/4 Literature (2/2 US Lit, 2/2 from Language Arts, Brit Lit, World Lit)
- 4/4 Science (3/3 Bio, Chem, Physics, 1/1 other science)
- 4/4 Math (No computational tossups)
- 3/3 Fine Arts (at least 1/1 Visual Arts and 1/1 Music)
- 1/1 Miscellaneous (primarily Interdisciplinary and Pop Culture)
While the head editor does not have control over the mandated distribution as shown, they have greater discretion over the sub-distribution. The editor can decide to include no Language Arts and have that part of the sub-distribution cover only British and/or World Lit, for example.
State Series Format
The IHSA State Series uses a Regional-Sectional-State format, and in two classes (AA for large schools, A for smaller schools).
Since 2018, a school's classification is determined by sorting all participating teams evenly between each division based on their enrollment. In recent years that split has hovered around 500 students and fluctuates every year. Schools that are smaller than this cutoff may compete in Class AA for various reasons. Their enrollment is inflated by a "private school" multiplier, the team has seen perennial top placement in the tournament or simply has requested to play up ().
Schools are then assigned, geographically to one of eight sectionals in their class (usually in January). Each sectional consists of approximately 24-40 schools. This means that despite roughly 70% of Illinois' population being from Chicago and the collar counties while a vast majority of schools are small schools located in central, western, or southern Illinois, only 5 of the 16 sectionals (1 Class A and 4 Class AA) represent the greater Chicago area. This follows from the IHSA's philosophy on all of their state series (p. 101) which states The State Series is designed to determine a State Champion. The State Series is not intended to necessarily advance the best teams in the state to the State Final. This philosophy has created a degree of concern between players, coaches, officials, and the IHSA as they are specifically against the advancement of top teams, and that teams advancing to the IHSA state tournament become frustrated when they have advanced, but that advancement does not translate into further recognition or respect in polls or All-State awards. It has also led to issues where teams which are not considered near the "top 8" in their class are blown out in state-level competition, and then complain that the questions or opponents were too tough. The IHSA has generally refused to address this in the past, though writers and editors, and the IHSSBCA have tinkered with the question writing process at various times to allow for better accessibility of answer lines to teams that are competing at the state level, but may not truly be state level teams.
Seeding & Hosts
Following Sectional assignments coaches will then submit season records & vote to determine the top 8 teams in mid-February. Since 2017, this process has been done online over two days rather than in-person. Afterward, the IHSA will place each team into one of four Regional tournaments composed of single-elimination brackets, with an effort made to separate the top 8 seeds (1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5), and arrange them so that seeds only meet in the Regional finals. Lastly, the remaining assignments in the brackets are filled out taking into consideration geography & submitted team records.
Sectional hosts are typically pre-determined by the IHSA before the seeding process. However Regional hosts are determined during the seeding process with schools denoting their interest in hosting, with preference given to the top-4 seeds.
The State Finals are held by a single host. Since 2022, the tournament has been held at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. Previously, the tournament was hosted by the Peoria Civic Center with a few other down-state schools also hosting in the earliest years.
Regional tournaments are held on the first Monday of March, with the winners of the four Regionals advancing to Sectionals that Saturday.
A Sectional is composed of a four-team round-robin, with winners advancing to the State Finals. If there is a tie between two teams, it is broken based on head-to-head results, with a three-way tie broken based on the total scores of the teams scored against the other tied teams. While this is far from ideal, until 2003, the Sectionals were three rounds of single-elimination (both the regional champions and runners-up advanced to sectionals). Because all IHSA team sports use single-elimination, the IHSA has been very uneasy about Scholastic Bowl playing in a round-robin format, and at least one administrator claimed that he needed to constantly explain to sports coaches why Scholastic Bowl was allowed a rare dispensation to allow for a round-robin Sectional Tournament, this despite team chess having abandoned single elimination back in the 1970s.
The State Championship Tournament is held on the following Friday or Saturday. Since 2001, the winners of the 8 sectionals in each class are randomly assigned to one of two pools of four teams. Each team plays the three other teams in their pool, with the top teams in each pool advancing to the state championship, and the runner-ups in each of the pools playing a third-place match. Ties in each pool are broken according to the same rules in the Sectional. Prior to 2001, the State Finals were a single-elimination tournament.
Writing & Editing
Since 2001 the IHSA has hired a secret cabal to write its questions. In 2001 and 2002 the editor was Tom Egan, who proposed that system. From 2003-2017 the editor was Sister John Baricevic. In 2017, Brad Fischer became the new head editor, and is the first head editor with practical playing experience.
Writers who have admitted their involvement with the IHSA writing process include the following:
- Sister John Baricevic (editor, 2003–17)
- Tom Egan (editor, 2001–02; writer in some other years)
- Brad Fischer (editor beginning 2018)
- Jonah Greenthal (2010–12)
- Matt Laird (2010–11)
- Greg Peterson (2013)
- Shawn Pickrell (several years, specifics unknown)
- David Reinstein (2012-13; fired for reporting plagiarism in 2013)
- Kristin Strey (2011)
- Donald Taylor (several years, specifics unknown)
- Kelly Tourdot (several years, specifics unknown)
- Andrew Ullsperger (several years, specifics unknown)
- Matt Weiner (2006–07)
- Noah Prince (subject editor, 2016, 2018-19, 2021-22)
Top Teams from the IHSA State Championship Tournament
Clicking on the year brings you to the article showing the full results for each year's State Championship Tournament. (NOTE: The information below only goes up to 2009.)
State Championship Results
|Years||AA Champion||AA Second Place||A Champion||A Second Place|
|1987-88||Quincy Senior||Wheaton Central|
|1989-90||IMSA||Joliet Catholic Academy|
|1992-93||Quincy Senior||IMSA||Winnebago||Latin School|
|1994-95||Richwoods||New Trier||Winnebago||Latin School|
|1997-98||IMSA||Hinsdale Central||Latin School||St. Teresa|
|1999-2000||Stevenson||Naperville Central||Byron||University (Normal)|
|2001-02||Wheaton North||Hinsdale Central||Latin School||Carterville|
|2002-03||Wheaton North||Auburn (Rockford)||Stillman Valley||Carlinville|
|2003-04||Wheaton North||Stevenson||Latin School||Carterville|
|2004-05||Stevenson||Wheaton North||Latin School||Eureka|
|2005-06||Fremd||Carbondale||Latin School||Illinois Valley Central|
|2006-07||New Trier||Wheaton North||Decatur Lutheran||Columbia|
|2011-12||IMSA||Macomb||Peoria Christian||Chicago Christian|
|2014-15||Auburn||Hinsdale Central||University of Illinois Lab||Peoria Christian|
|2015-16||Hinsdale Central||Auburn||Latin||St. Teresa|
|2016-17||IMSA||University of Illinois Lab||Timothy Christian||Williamsville|
|2018-19||University of Illinois Lab||Auburn||Chicago Christian||Williamsville|
|2021-22||IMSA||Springfield||University of Illinois Lab||Westmont|
|2022-23||Rockford Auburn||Barrington||University of Illinois Lab||Piasa Southwestern|
Three or More Top 4 Finishes
- 22 - Illinois Math & Science Academy
- 20 - Auburn
- 16 - The Latin School of Chicago
- 11 - Stevenson
- 9 - Wheaton North
- 8 - Carbondale
- 7 - Winnebago
- 6 - Uni Lab
- 6 - Quincy Senior
- 5 - New Trier
- 5 - Hinsdale Central
- 5 - Byron
- 5 - Piasa Southwestern
- 4 - MacArthur
- 4 - Carlinville
- 4 - Peoria Christian
- 3 - Joliet Catholic Academy
- 3 - Streator Township
- 3 - St. Teresa
- 3 - Williamsville
Three or More Consecutive Top 4 Finishes
- 18 - Auburn (2002-19)
- 8 - Wheaton North (2001-08)
- 8 - The Latin School of Chicago (2002-09)
- 5 - Illinois Math & Science Academy (2010-14)
- 4 - The Latin School of Chicago (1992-95)
- 4 - Illinois Math & Science Academy (1996-2000)
- 4 - Illinois Math & Science Academy (2016-19)
- 3 - Joliet Catholic Academy (1988-90)
- 3 - Illinois Math & Science Academy (1992-94)
- 3 - Winnebago (1993-95)
- 3 - Streator Township (1998-2000)
- 3 - Piasa Southwestern (2017-19)
- 3 - Williamsville (2017-19)
- Masonic tournament - State Tournament hosted by the Illinois Masons
- NAQT Illinois State Championship