VHSL Scholastic Bowl
The Virginia High School League offers a comprehensive program of extracurricular activities including sports and academic contests in Virginia and began offering a Scholastic Bowl title in 1998. The three-class system was in effect through the 2012-2013 year. Beginning in 2013-2014, thanks to the 2014 VHSL Realignment, new conferences and a six-class state tournament were implemented.
Prior to 1998
Quizbowl in Virginia existed in several forms prior to the awarding of a VHSL state championship, including:
- independent weekend tournaments run by high schools and colleges, with Spotswood, Thomas Jefferson (VA), and Virginia Tech being among the longest-tenured hosts
- TV tournaments such as It's Academic, Battle of the Brains, Tidewater Challenge, and Pop Quiz
- leagues and championship tournaments run at the sub-state level by certain VHSL regions - more information on this is desired
From the time of Scholastic Bowl's inception to the end of the 2012-2013 year, the VHSL classified schools into groups A, AA, and AAA based primarily on school size. Many schools played up or down from where their size would dictate in order to be in the same division as geographically nearby opponents. Both Maggie Walker and Thomas Jefferson were required by rule to play in Group AAA in academic activities regardless of school size. This system was eliminated in the 2014 VHSL Realignment.
Each district produced two teams to send to regionals. 44 of the 46 districts in VHSL participated in Scholastic Bowl.
Each of the four regional tournaments sent its top two teams to the state championship. The state championship consisted of the top eight teams (in each enrollment class) playing a double-elimination tournament. The state championship was held at Charlottesville High School in 1998 and at William & Mary from 1999 onwards.
Performance in Scholastic Bowl and other academic activities sponsored by VHSL (including debate, and forensics) counts towards a school's standing in the Wachovia Cup in Academics, an overall title awarded to the school with the best performance in all non-athletic VHSL events. There is also a Wachovia Cup for Athletics.
Districts were used only for the optional regular season. Postseason play began in Conferences. Conferences each sent two teams to Regionals, and each Regional, of which there were two per class, sent two teams to the state tournament. The state tournament involved each of the six classes playing a four-team, three-game round robin; three-way ties were broken on total points (not played off) under the announced system.
The new classes were known as 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A. Magnet schools no longer played up in the highest class for academic competitions, and instead played in the class that their enrollment size dictated.
In a more minor change, conferences and regions were required to choose from either a round-robin or double-elimination format and could not design their own formats.
The 2018 VHSL Realignment keeps the class system intact except for changing the naming of the classes from using the system of "A"s. For example, 6A will now be called Class 6. Conferences are eliminated and replaced with districts for the regular season. Postseason play will begin at regional tournaments, of which there will now be four per class.
Leadership & Questions
The tournament was first written and directed by Claude Sandy, a retired Academic Decathlon administrator with no prior connection to quizbowl. Tournaments in his purview were noted for recycling questions and having less than 2 literature questions in an average match, most of which are on repetitive pet topics such as Zane Grey and the fact that Leo Tolstoy held the noble rank of "count."
In 2001, Shawn Pickrell took over as Commissioner and chief question writer. He implemented a strategy by which Regionals and States (but not the regular season or Districts) gradually became more pyramidal and the stated subject distribution of the packets was roughly followed.
In 2010, Pickrell resigned and Fred Campbell became the new Commissioner, contracting with HSAPQ to provide the questions. """ "Good quizbowl" principles were introduced at all levels of the competition.
In Fall 2017, it was announced that NAQT would be the new question provider for Scholastic Bowl's regular season, Regionals, Super Regionals, and State tournaments.
The format used in VHSL matches consists of a round of fifteen tossups, ten "directed questions" for each team which bounce back, and a concluding phase of fifteen more tossups. Tossups are scored in the normal quizbowl way but lack powermarking. Directed questions are worth 10 points each and function similarly to a single-part bonus, but their reading is not correlated to answering tossups.
Origin of the format
The format is somewhat based on the format of the Mountain Academic Competition Conference and the Southwest Virginia Academic Conference, two local organizations which ran quizbowl competitions prior to the formation of Scholastic Bowl. The format is not used at any non-Scholastic Bowl events (nearly all independent events in Virginia use standard ACF format).
State-level VHSL competition is restricted to one team per school, though some district-level Scholastic Bowl tournaments have JV divisions and/or allow B teams.
The VHSL is not formally limited to public schools and in 2015 voted to allow "non-boarding" private schools to join. In practice, the only known private school currently playing VHSL sports is Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, which as of 2020 has not participated in Scholastic Bowl. Some specialty public schools that are too small to support a full sports program are not members of VHSL.
The VHSL does not include half-day magnet programs such as Mountain Vista and requires students in those programs to play sports and activities such as Scholastic Bowl for their home schools, whereas invitational tournaments usually allow these kinds of magnets to participate.
VHSL has minimum courseload requirements for all sports and activities which, in simplified form, require a "take five/pass five" approach; students must be enrolled in five for-credit courses during the current semester and must have passed five for-credit courses during the prior semester. While this rarely causes issues with Scholastic Bowl participants, there have been cases where local schools allowed 12th graders with near-complete graduation requirements to take fewer than five courses at the school and complete their day on independent study. These students were generally eligible for quizbowl due to being enrolled at the school but were not eligible for Scholastic Bowl due to failing to meet the five-course minimum.
In the 1990s and 2000s competitive teams such as St. Christopher's, Collegiate, and St. Anne's were unable to participate in VHSL tournaments or compete for the state title due to the de facto public/private school split. Since at least 2007 the consensus best overall team in Virginia has always been a public school (Thomas Jefferson, Cave Spring, Maggie Walker, or Western Albemarle) though it is possible that some of the private schools could have contended for titles in the VHSL's multi-class system.