An Interview With Dr. Arensberg: How Has the Garnet Valley Hi-Q Team Done This Year?

Pictured above: Dr. Arensberg (second from the left) and the 2019-2020 Garnet Valley Hi-Q team celebrate the 2020 Delco Hi-Q Championship. This was their second consecutive title, which they won by scoring 51 points against Radnor’s 46 and Haverford’s 42.

By: Ryan Croke

Following another impressive campaign in 2021, the Garnet Valley Hi-Q team is set to host and compete in the Delco championship on March 3, hoping to avenge a third-place finish in last year’s final. Delaware County Christian School took home the 2021 trophy, preventing the Jaguars from winning the championship in three consecutive years. Dr. Lesley Arensberg, a science teacher at Garnet Valley and also a co-advisor for the Hi-Q team, provided her thoughts on their incredible season, recalled past seasons and accomplishments, and analyzed what has helped to make the Garnet Valley team so successful during her tenure here. She also examined what the team has done this year to achieve their goals, and what the future aspirations of the team happen to be below.

Q: So, what exactly is Hi-Q? How does it work?

A: Hi-Q is an academic quiz bowl, and it’s 21 schools in Delaware County, some are public some are private, and we compete three times during the regular season. They take three schools at a time, that’s a meet, and they ask questions on current events, biology, literature, sports, Shakespeare, math, geography, then in the second half, it’s chemistry, then it’s team choice that repeats some of the things from the first half, art history, business, government, US history, and world history. We get reference material, they tell us usually history is a period of time, chemistry it’s anything, physics it’s anything, bio they narrow it down to chapters, I don’t know why, and math is anything up to trig. It’s a quiz bowl, so a quiz master asks the question, it goes to one school first, they get four tries to get the answer right, and you get points depending on how many tries it took, four, three, two, one, et cetera, if they don’t get it in four tries, one of the other two schools can buzz in and get a point. You play two different schools, and then about four weeks to six weeks later you play two different schools, and that keeps going. The top seven make it to the playoffs, the top school hosts the championship and gets a bye for the semi-finals, which is us because nobody can catch us. We’re in first place, [since] nobody can mathematically catch us, so we’re going to host, in March, the championship. If you win the local championship you move on to nationals, and we’ve won nationals twice. We’ve could’ve won it a third time, but it was the year that COVID gave us a half year of school and we didn’t have nationals that year, but that’s pretty much what it is. 

Q: What years did you win nationals?

A: 2016 was probably the first time, and then more recently than that… I don’t remember.

Q: How does the team prepare for competitions? How often are competitions?

A: So, we study one time [per week] during a learn and one time [per week] after school, we have a written tryout to even be on the team, we used to be able to only accept ten kids, this year they expanded it to 12, so the top 12 scorers are on the team, then we compete for seats on stage because there can only be 4 kids on stage. Sometimes it’s the same kid in both halves, sometimes it’s eight totally different kids, so we compete for that using buzzers and questions, so Mrs. Dubnansky and I prepare questions all summer, we read all the reference stuff, because it changes, the lit is 20 short stories, so I read 20 short stories and I write questions, we have four different Shakespeare plays, so we write our questions and compete for seats. Once we have our seats, then they [the students] choose what part of our reference they want to study. We’ll break down history into smaller chunks, and the kid with the top score gets their first choice of when they want. This year, it’s very recent history, I think it’s the 70’s and 80’s mostly, maybe late 60’s, early 70’s and 80’s, you might have a preference, so they’ll choose the reference stuff they want according to how they finished and then they study. They have backups, backup kids have to write questions for their person [for whom they are the backup] so we do that and then Mrs. Dubnanski and I ask questions after a few minutes. So they eat snacks and ask each other questions, and then it comes down to us asking them questions, and that’s kind of how we study. If a backup thinks the person who has their seat isn’t doing their job and isn’t studying, and they know more than the person who has the seat, they can challenge them. We’ve had a couple of challenges in here, where a backup challenges, and we’ll have to do it during learn, we do it like a regular competition but it doesn’t take us that long so we’ll go through a few rounds of first and second half or maybe just first half material, and maybe the backup unseats the seated person. 

Q: The team recently had a dominant showing, scoring 71 points against Archbishop Carroll’s 16 and Sun Valley’s 21. Is this how all the competitions usually go for this team?

A: No, they’re usually closer, but the people who run this have a bracket system, and depending on where you finished the year before, your schedule is made. We don’t usually get schools that are that easy to beat, we usually get people who are more comparable to us. Most of the time the meets are closer. The last meet before that, we had 53, and one of the other schools had 49, so we don’t usually dominate, but I will say, we were this close to tying our own record, top score of 75 in the nation, was set by us, and we did it on the same day that we almost did it again, which was amazing, but we missed a question, we didn’t the toss-up, the last question of the day is a toss-up, and we didn’t buzz in fast enough. That’s the other thing, you need buzzer skills because even if you know the answer if you don’t buzz in, and beat another school for a toss-up, you’re not going to get the points. For most of the categories, it’s this school, four tries, then that school, four tries, and then there’s a math toss-up at the end and you need to be fast to get that point. But yeah, it’s not usually that much of a trouncing.

Q: Looking at the scores on your whiteboard, it looks like the Garnet Valley team has been doing quite well. What do you think has helped you guys perform so strongly?

I think that our students work well together and they work as a team and they study properly together. I don’t know that every school has someone who is backing them up and also quizzing them. I think they’re just doing the same things and studying the same stuff but I don’t think they’re as involved in that person’s preparation. I think when you realize that it’s not just your ability to answer a question on general knowledge, but that people have prepared you to answer these questions, it’s helpful. 

Q: Is there any specific student whose efforts this year have blown you away? Or is it a collective effort from the team? What has the team or this student done to impress you?

A: It’s definitely been a collective effort from the team. I’m gonna say I cannot answer that right now because we’ve been officially asked that every year. Each year, each team has to nominate a person to be on the All-Delco team, and we haven’t answered that yet. I will say that every person on our team has been working hard, and it’s going to be a hard decision this year.

Q: What do you think this team can accomplish? Is winning the championship an expectation that you have with how strong this team is? 

A: So, we have been in this position before, where we knew we were in first place before the regular season had even ended, and we tried not to rest on our laurels and keep going but that didn’t always work. We have finished in first place and then in the championship ended in third, which is the last of the three schools, so we’re talking a lot about how we don’t want that to happen. When we have a banquet, the top three teams sit upfront, and then everybody else is in the back. One year, we didn’t even make finals and we sat all the way in the back and we came back to school and said, “Don’t let that ever happen again, we want to sit in the front, not in the back of a big banquet hall with thousands of people, we want to be upfront.” So we gave the team encouragement, and I think they want it too. Back in the day, before COVID, we would go to a board meeting and they would recognize us with a certificate, and we would go to township meetings, where they would honor our kids, so there were all kinds of accolades and honors that we received for winning. It’s nice.

Q: This team won back-to-back championships in 2019 and 2020, and has won 6 out of the last 11 Hi-Q championships. Have you been with the team all that time? What has allowed you guys to have such prolonged success?

A: Yes I have been with the team all that time, and even before then, we had spatterings of first place, just not in a row, and I’m gonna tell you that our goal is to win three times in a row because you get to keep the trophy. There’s a trophy, like the Stanley Cup, put at the champion’s school, but when a new champion is crowned, the trophy moves. But if you win it three times in a row, you keep it. That’s been our goal, but we haven’t done it. We win two, and then we miss a year, and then we win the next year, so there’s always this gap year where we don’t win and we don’t get to keep the trophy. That’s been our goal the whole time, to win that trophy three times in a row. I think that when we have tryouts and the kids who make it don’t necessarily know each other, but after the first few practices and we have the system down, it works like clockwork, and people enjoy going to practice and they do what they need to do to keep coming and not lose their seat and not lose their place, and then they want to come back the next year, so, everybody does what they’re supposed to do.

Q: If you win it three times in a row, do you keep it until another team wins it three times in a row? 

A: No, you keep it forever. And it’s inscribed with all the teams who won it while the trophy existed. One of the first years I did this, Marple Newtown did it and it was the first time in tons of years that a school won three times in a row and got to keep the trophy. That was probably 15 years ago, so there are 15 schools on the trophy that we would get to keep if we were to win it, which is what we want. We also get a trophy for nationals. We have two trophies for nationals, but I don’t know where they are, because they used to be in a case in the lobby and they got moved.

Q: Last year, Delaware County Christian School took home the trophy. Are they the toughest competitor Garnet Valley will have to face in order to win? What other teams do you feel pose the largest challenge for Garnet Valley? 

A: I can’t speak on that, but I will say that the competition was very different last year as a result of COVID, and some schools made it work and others didn’t. We made it work, don’t get me wrong, we finished first, but we didn’t win the championship. It was just an odd year because it was a virtual competition and some kids wouldn’t put their cameras on, it was a whole other world. It was rough. 

Q: What would you say is your fondest memory of Hi-Q? How about one from this year?

A: I just like when we win, you can hear Mrs. Dubnansky and me screaming, just going “Yes! Yes!” and I always love when that toss-up math, we get it, and we had to get it to win or something along those lines. That’s just so much fun, us cheering, and we’re just so involved when they’re competing. And it’s hard because we know the answers and we can’t say them- except for math, they usually know the answers and we don’t know them. It’s just the competition. Each competition is a lot of fun. What’s also fun is- and we’re not doing it this year -after every competition, there’s a reception, and so you get to eat with the other three schools and you get to socialize, and our kids meet other kids and they keep in touch, so that’s always really nice too, but we haven’t been able to have receptions.

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