Reach for the Top

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Reach for the Top is the dominant high school quiz competition in Canada. Technically a form of quizbowl, it has a larger sports distribution than other academic quizbowl formats, contains more hoses, and is composed almost entirely of speed-check questions which are often non-pyramidal. It is also more expensive than alternatives like NAQT.

French students usually play Genies en herbe, while university students play in the quizbowl format.


The majority of questions in Reach for the Top are approximately the length of quizbowl bonus questions (1-2 sentences), and are worth, for the most part, 10 points each. Interruption of the questions for early guesses are not only allowed but also encouraged, as the game is based heavily on speed. If a team buzzes in and answer a question incorrectly, the opposing team has approximately 3-5 seconds to consult and form an answer. Consultation is permitted at almost all times in Reach for the Top (see "Shootouts" and "Assigned" for exceptions). There are no negs or powers in Reach, although negs (-5) appeared in the 2007 Nationals for the first time.



Forming the bulk of Reach for the Top questions, these consist of 1-2 sentence questions open to both teams and are worth ten points each. Snapout/Snapstart categories take place at the beginning and end of each round respectively, and the subject of each question varies (i.e. none are linked by a category). "Open" categories are, mostly, worth 40 points in total, and consist of 4 questions all linked by one similar category (e.g. "40 point open on architects"); it is open to both teams.

"20 Point Special"

Like an open question (see last category), but the answer often requires 2 answers in one (e.g. Q: Name both years in which a player's strike or owner's lockout was responsible for the cancellation of some or all of the games in an NHL season. A: 1994-95 and 2004-05 [sic] and 2012-13) In other cases, the 20 point special can require one very long answer, for example, the provincial motto of Newfoundland, Quaerite primum regnum Dei


A maximum of 12 questions are posed in this category. Once one player has answered a question correctly, they may no longer answer any questions. This player is now "out". Once one team has every one of its 4 players "out", they gain 40 points, and the other team gains 0. Consultation is forbidden at all times in this category. Concerns that have arisen with this category include A) 12 questions are needed to generate 40 points and B) Both teams can have 3 players out with one question left, which one team may barely answer correctly on speed, giving them all 40 points, and thus a very important swing on a very little difference between teams.

Chain Snappers

Similar to a snapstart/snapout, chain snappers involve the answer to one question forming the topic of the succeeding question. As a result, the best and fastest teams can often answer the next question with only 3-4 words read.

Who am I/What am I

Who am I/What am I questions consist of four clues with decreasing point value, beginning with a (usually vague) opening question. If answered correctly on this question, that team gains 40 points. If neither team guesses correctly, the answer is not read, and a slightly less ambiguous clue worth 30 points is read. This continues for two more questions (worth 20 and 10 points respectively), until, if no team is able to give the correct answer, the answer is read. Unlike Good Quizbowl, the first clue does not provide only one possible answer. The 40-point question is often described as being written as though "an expert in that field" would be unable to be absolutely sure of the correct answer, and as a result, can often trigger highly inaccurate guesses, or in the case of non-competitive teams, non-sensical answers which are made to incite laughs and in doing so, delay the game. The 40-point clue can vary in difficulty from completely, improbably difficult, (almost to the a point where one questions the point of it; e.g. "This country is located in Europe." or "He was born in 1685.") to reasonably difficult.


Worth 80 points in total, this category consists of questions posed to specific individuals. One team, designated "Team A", will have each of its team members asked one question. If answered incorrectly, the player sitting directly across from that player will have an opportunity to answer that question. Once team A has had all of its players asked a question, team B's players are then asked questions one-by-one in a similar fashion. All of the questions relate to one category (e.g. European national capitals). Consultation is forbidden.

Team Questions

These questions work similarly to tossup/bonus questions. One question is posed to both teams. The team that correctly answers the question has an opportunity to answer three more questions. The only differences between that and quizbowl are that the "tossup" question is usually very short and very easy and the bonus questions (actually called bonus) are related in topic to the "tossup" question.


Worth 50 points, this category involves teams alternating in turns to complete a list. Both teams have an opportunity to buzzz in for the first answer. After each question is answered correctly the other team has an opportunity to give an answer. Once a team gets a question wrong, they may no longer answer. e.g. List all of the professional teams that Wayne Gretzky played for. Team A (buzzes in): "Edmonton Oilers" - Correct Team B: "New York Rangers" - Correct Team A: "St. Louis Blues" - Correct Team B: "Philadelphia Flyers" - Incorrect Team A: "Los Angeles Kings & Indianapolis Racers" - Correct x 2

Canadian Tournament Play

The modern Reach for the Top season begins with SchoolReach - regional leagues playing in classrooms. For most provinces, a "region" encompasses the entire province, while BC and Ontario are divided into smaller regions either for league play (in BC) or to serve as qualifiers for a provincial tournament (in Ontario). A few provinces have their playoff matches televised. The territories, Saskatchewan, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador do not currently have provincial tournaments; any schools from those regions may participate in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, respectively.

Depending on participation levels, provincial tournaments will qualify either one or two teams to the national tournament, held for the past several years in Edmonton. The national tournament consists of an in-classroom round-robin, followed by televised playoffs.

Most regions offer an "Intermediate" division tournament open to freshmen and sophomores, but there is no framework for an Intermediate national tournament. "Intermediate" would likely be higher than a "Junior" division (presumably for middle school), but a middle school tournament does not exist. Reach attempted to start a university tournament in the early 2000s, but some NAQT tournaments had already taken root at the time.

There are a few Reach (or Reach-style) tournaments held during the year that are independent of the qualification process to Nationals. New Brunswick has 5-6 per year around the province, Toronto has had a few in recent years, and Lisgar CI held a tournament in Ottawa in 2007. Nevertheless, the number of tournaments is much smaller than availability in several US regions.

Rule 1 Issues

Rule #1 of Reach for the Top states:

"Any student who is 19 or under at the beginning of the school year and has been continuously enrolled in a Secondary School is eligible to play both SCHOOLREACH and REACH FOR THE TOP."

This rule originally accommodated the 5-year high school system in Ontario, which ended with students entering in 1999. This rule has since not changed, even with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador having 3-year high schools. As such, some players and teams have exploited this loophole to various degrees of success:

  • Quebec's league was established in the 2001-02 season. CEGEPs, which have high school graduates, are allowed to compete under the rule, and a CEGEP represents Quebec at Nationals nearly every year. Royal West Academy, a high school, broke this trend by qualifying for Nationals in 2008.
  • Andy Saunders played Reach For The Top for six seasons in high school due to Rule #1.
  • A player from Leaside celebrated his 19th birthday at the Ontario provincial tournament his team ended up winning in 2005. They failed to win Nationals, however.
  • The captain of 2004 St. George's was in his fifth year of Reach, and won the national championship. What was particularly ironic was the fact that the coach was quite vocal about fifth-year Ontario teams winning Nationals throughout the 1990s.

It should be noted that several Ontario teams have managed to win the national championships in the 4-year system.

Championship Disputes

Since the conversion from a CBC program to SchoolReach, there have been incidents that have left a national title in dispute by some parties:

  • 1989 Tagwi: Tagwi won an early match because of a (possibly) incorrect ruling over the ingredients of borscht. The team got screwed over in the end, though. They never got a trophy because of a dispute between Reach and the old CBC champions, and their scheduled exhibition match with the NAC champions was cancelled because a party in the US (the team? the TV crew? Chip Beall?) didn't want to travel to Canada.
  • 1995 Fredericton: In the aftermath of issues surrounding the 1995 Bell team, a team from Lisgar that won the zone match to earn a berth in provincials never got the opportunity to play. How well the Lisgar team would have fared is now only speculative.
  • 2008 Lisgar: Down by 5 points, the runner-up team from UTS claimed they buzzed in at the end of the game before the time alarm went off. It had to go to a video review, and Reach judged in favour of Lisgar. A small edit war erupted on Wikipedia between anonymous Toronto IPs and quizbowlers apparently "sympathetic" to Lisgar over how the championship should be listed in the article.
  • 2009 London Central: London Central's opponents in the finals from Kennebecasis were not informed by either Reach For The Top or TVO that there would be a change in format for the final game until minutes before the game began. The team from Kennebecasis had also never played using TVOs format (which eliminates the shootout and includes relatively easy questions among other changes) before. The London Central team had played using TVOs format two weeks earlier for the Ontario Provincials, giving them an advantage for the finals. The national tournament was also notable for the recycling of several questions during the round robin portion which could have also affected the outcome of the tournament in terms of seeding the teams for the playoffs.

Notable Participants

As a long-standing and highly-regarded establishment in Canada, several people have participated during their high school years and gone on to great success. A list of notable former players, coaches, and Reach personnel follows (names in bold won the national championship):


  • Kim Campbell - Prime Minister of Canada (1993)
  • Mark Carney - Governor of the Bank of Canada (2008- )
  • Grant Devine - Premier of Saskatchewan (1982-91)
  • Stephen Harper - Prime Minister of Canada (2006- )
  • Ken Kowalski - Speaker of the Legislature of Alberta (1997- )
  • Bernard Lord - Premier of New Brunswick (1999-2006)
  • Stuart Smith - Leader of the Opposition of Ontario (1977-81)



  • Malcolm Gladwell - Author of the bestsellers The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers
  • Bernard Hibbitts - Law professor at the University of Pittsburgh [1]; founder of JURIST news service
  • Dr. Sethu Reddy - Former professor of medicine at Dalhousie & Harvard; chairman at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio

National Champions

Reach for the Top had televised matches as early as 1961, but no national champions were declared until 1966. There were no national champions from 1986-88.

Year Champion Prov Runner-up Prov Location Notes
1966 Vincent Massey ON Winnipeg, MB
1967 Rideau ON Montreal, QC
1968 Oak Bay BC Vancouver, BC
1969 Neil McNeil ON Kelvin MB St. John's, NL
1970 Kelvin MB Edmonton, AB
1971 River East MB Halifax, NS
1972 O'Leary AB Winnipeg, MB
1973 Lorne Jenkins AB QC Ottawa, ON
1974 Gonzaga NL O'Leary AB St. John's, NL Only NL champion
1975 Queen Elizabeth NS Vancouver, BC
1976 Central Peel ON Windsor, ON
1977 Glenlawn MB Dryden ON Calgary, AB
1978 Vincent Massey (2) ON Dryden ON Charlottetown, PE First two-time champions; defeated 1978 Richview
1979 Banting Memorial ON Dryden ON Montreal, QC
1980 Hillcrest ON Sir Winston Churchill QC Ottawa, ON
1981 Cobequid NS Corner Brook, NL
1982 Dakota MB Hillcrest ON Winnipeg, MB
1983 Roland Michener ON Toronto, ON
1984 Deloraine MB Moncton NB Regina, SK
1985 Kate Andrews AB Wagar QC Moncton, NB Last year on CBC
1989 Tagwi ON Mount Douglas BC Winnipeg, MB Revival as "Schoolreach"
1990 Memorial NS
1991 St. George's BC St. Albert AB
1992 Saunders ON Ancaster ON London, ON
1993 St. Joseph's ON William E. Hay AB London, ON
1994 Bell ON Fredericton NB London, ON
1995 Fredericton NB Saunders ON Toronto, ON
1996 Saunders (2) ON Fredericton NB Toronto, ON First two-time champion player: Dave Thorsley
1997 Earl Haig ON Gloucester ON Vancouver, BC
1998 Gloucester ON Kingston CVI ON Halifax, NS
1999 Frontenac ON Saunders ON Toronto, ON Frontenac's 600-410 win is highest-ever score in final match
2000 Merivale ON Ridley ON Edmonton, AB National finals return to TV
2001 Gloucester (2) ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2002 UTS ON St. George's BC Edmonton, AB
2003 UTS (2) ON Dawson QC Edmonton, AB First back-to-back championships
2004 St. George's (2) BC Leaside ON Edmonton, AB
2005 Cobequid (2) NS St. George's BC Edmonton, AB First champion of both CBC and SchoolReach eras
2006 Woburn ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2007 London Central ON Kennebecasis NB Edmonton, AB
2008 Lisgar ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2009 London Central (2) ON Kennebecasis NB Toronto, ON Excluding the final game, the National Finals left TV.
2010 Kennebecasis NB Cobequid NS Toronto, ON No games televised
2011 Kennebecasis (2) NB Centennial ON Toronto, ON No games televised. Semifinals and Finals were played at Canada's Wonderland
2012 UTS (3) ON London Central ON Toronto, ON
2013 UTS (4) ON Bellerose AB Toronto, ON
2014 Martingrove ON London Central ON Toronto, ON
2015 Lisgar (2) ON Kennebecasis NB Toronto, ON
2016 Kennebecasis (3) NB Eric Hamber BC Toronto, ON
2017 Lisgar (3) ON UTS ON Toronto, ON

National Final Appearances

Not all runners-up are confirmed

See Also