'Team Coach' Dr Oakley (who is himself a former winner of BBC TV's 'University Challenge' and also a former question-setter) describes the competition:
Two teams travelled to King Edward’s School Birmingham (KES) for the first stage of the National Schools’ Challenge.
The rules of Schools’ Challenge are very similar to University Challenge (individual starters followed by a set of three bonuses for the team) but with a slight difference to the scoring: ten points are awarded for each correct answer and there is a bonus bonus awarded for three correct bonuses. There is no penalty for incorrect interjections, which removes the fear of racking up a negative score.
Our first team went as defending champions, having beaten KES in the Regional Final last year. The team had only lost one member since last year, but we knew that KES would provide us with stiff opposition.
In the round of sixteen, we had a double-header with Edgbaston High School: the first team played their second team and our second team played their first.
"Fingers on buzzers, you first starter for ten…
Which cat was used to punish sailors?"
So a cryptic one to start. “Well, being trapped below deck with a tiger would probably not be a pleasurable experience,” probably ran through some heads. But debutant Tim Antelo (Rb III) buzzed in with the correct answer* and we were off the mark.
Some useful bonus points and a perfect set on the hypo-morpheme gave us a comfortable early lead. It slowly became evident that EHS were not going to launch a comeback and overall Ollie Bureau (Ch UVI) answered ten starters, the quizzing equivalent of a century, for a resounding 760-60 victory.
In another room, Shrewsbury 2 comprising Tom Hughes (Ch UVI) and Jamie Channon (PH UVI) (and sadly no juniors due to conflicting fixtures) notched up 470 points, beating EHS 1 by 270 points. This result led to a quarter-final match against KES 1 in which they performed admirably but ultimately lost 300-600.
The person reading the questions has to be neutral so must not be associated with the schools they preside over. Such was the complexity of the draw that I was need to be quizmaster for the Quarter-Final between KES 2 and King Edward’s Camp Hill for Boys 2 (KECHB). So my notes on the quarter-final against King Edward’s Stratford only exist on the back of a receipt handed to me by Mrs Bureau afterwards (for which many thanks). Shrewsbury started slowly (this became a common theme for subsequent matches) but inched to an 80-point lead after ten questions. Stratford levelled at 310 all and were within touching distance until, it seems, Shrewsbury found their rhythm and had a relatively relaxed finish to a 860 – 570 victory.
On to the Semi-Finals and with KES represented in both matches and with the pool of teachers diminishing, I was again called to preside over KES and KECHB. But this time it was the battle of their first teams. KES 1 processed comfortably to the final with some very quick interruptions to starter; if we were to make the final then they would provide us with very stiff opposition.
Jamie Channon kindly registered the individual scores for the semi-finals and it seemed to be close for the opening few questions, KES 2 having the lead occasionally. But a 250-point cushion emerged and this gap was maintained to the end. Nine starters answered by Tom Allen (Ch IV), seven by Ollie and four from Alex Sparkes (I V) and several contributions from Tim buoyed the team with confidence as they went straight into the Final.
Thirty minutes on the clock… fingers on buzzers… classic question on phobias… KES buzz in… correct.
KES were quick to begin with and built a 100-point lead within the first three questions. Alex registered the first starter of the final for Shrewsbury, then Tom interrupts with some inspired anticipation of the questions. Ollie clearly knows his bookshops and as a result we were back in the match. KES still held us at arm's length but the gap was now only 40 points and seemed to stay like that for 15 minutes.
We levelled the match at 370-370 and KES were visibly rattled. If a team buzzes with the incorrect answer then there is no penalty but the opposing team gets to hear the entire question before they answer.
“Where were the Summer Olympics held in…?” – Buzzing here is clearly a gamble but KES took it, and lost. We gained a small lead but KES pulled back and the pendulum swung back and forth until the last five minutes.
A mix-up of the meaning of an acronym rattled KES’s star player and then Tom Allen took advantage and before we knew we had a 100-point lead and 90 seconds on the clock.
Ollie controlled the pace of the bonus answering to ensure there was never enough time for a comeback and we sprinted to the line: final score 660 – 480. For the second year running, we were crowned regional champions with a more imperious performance than last year having scored the highest score in every round and aggregated over 3,000 points in 115 minutes of quizzing.
The next round will be some time in New Year with the hope to advancing to the National Quarter-Finals in April 2018.
*It was of course the cat o’ nine tails, but anything bigger than a Canadian lynx would have probably sufficed.