[This post is inspired in part by Charlie Dees’ recent post about his thoughts on the Missouri quizbowl circuit, which is well-worth a read as well]
Greetings from the East Coast. It’s been awhile since I’ve followed SoCalQuizbowl closely since I’ve moved to Philadelphia (you can follow the goings-on in the Keystone State over at Greater Pennsylvania QuizBowl). I have been working mostly on starting brand-new teams in the City of Brotherly Love itself, but I thought I would check in to see how things have been going this year in SoCal.
So what’s the state of SoCalQuizbowl? The top teams are as good as they’ve ever been and there’s a stable circuit anchored around the Carmel Valley of northern San Diego. Middle school participation seems to be increasing in the San Diego area. UCSD seems to have successfully survived the departure of its old guard and UCI has revived slightly.
But that’s about it for the positives. The negatives are, to put it mildly, yuuuge. Four-team tournaments? The wholesale disappearance of circuit regulars like University, San Dieguito, and several others? Every brand-new team showing up to get curbstomped by a bunch of veteran teams? Novice tournaments that have no new schools?
Even worse, I’ve heard reports of poorly run tournaments and unfriendly behavior that turns people off from playing in college. This does not bode well for the future of SoCal QB.
Northern California is now eating Southern California’s lunch when it comes to organization and improvement (check out this 65-team field (!!!) from a recent tournament). Yes, this is partially due to the Berkeley magnet sucking up many of the top players in the state and making Berkeley capable of incredible feats of hosting and team-fielding, but San Diego had a head-start a few years ago and seems to have completely stalled. Los Angeles and Orange County, unfortunately, continue their reputation as where quizbowl goes to die outside of North Hollywood, Arcadia, and Irvine to a large extent.
So what can SoCal do to catch up to the North? I know many people are doing their best right now in SoCal individually, but this is a task that requires coordination between all tournament hosts and as many players and sponsors as possible. Some concrete suggestions:
- Introduce Real JV and Novice Divisions at more tournaments. If you have enough teams, do separate JV and Novice divisions and fill them with actual novice teams. If you’re a TD, police the rosters relentlessly so that top frosh and sophomores from highly established teams are playing in the varsity or open divisions where they belong. If you can’t fill a field with at least 6-8 new to newish teams, you’re doing something wrong outreach-wise. This is one of the biggest differences that I’ve seen between NorCal and SoCal in recent years. Not all tournaments should necessarily have these divisions, but many more should than do now.
- Get more coach/teacher involvement. I know this is difficult given the prevailing hands-off coaching style that’s the norm in the area, but I’ve seen in Pennsylvania just how much a few dedicated coaches can bring to a circuit in terms of credibility with other coaches and admins as well as institutional knowledge. Every tournament should be an opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with coaches at as many schools as possible. Stay in touch with coaches after tournaments and work to help them out as much as possible rather than just contacting them when you want them to come to your tournament.
- Establish a tournament schedule earlier on with more co-hosting, fewer tournaments, and better direction. Why was Triton Winter announced for the same date as SoCal States (which was also the same date as a Middle School tournament too)? Why are there so many tournaments that attract a dozen teams or less on the schedule? Why are tournaments announced just a few weeks before they’re hosted? Is anyone here reading the SoCalQB tournament hosting guide that’s been on this site for years? This kind of scheduling chaos is unprofessional and leads to the predictable results of too many tournaments, unprepared TDs, and a sub-par product.
- Plan out a united SoCal outreach strategy from the start of the year (when brand-new schools have the best chance to form teams). Some suggestions:
a. Stop with the mass emails to the same old addresses and start personalizing invites to schools. Try even leaving a phone message or two for a sponsor just to make contact. Attend all the Academic League pre-season meetings in person and talk to coaches there.
b. For schools with no team of any kind, aim for student activity directors at private schools and the larger publics that have them in addition to emailing principals at the start of the year. The more points of contact that you can make, the better potential for someone to get back to you.
c. Designate a few tournaments at the start of the year as “outreach targets” to get the whole SoCalQB community involved in organizing outreach for them and working every connection that people have. That way these tournaments will hopefully have large novice fields that can help build up a circuit. The last thing a novice team needs is to be the only new team at a tournament and get blown out by 500 points to every team.
- Get more teams who already play some form of quizbowl involved. Take advantage of the fact that the San Diego Academic League now is using pyramidal questions and work on getting those schools to tournaments and, more importantly, “plugged in” to the circuit via the Facebook group and such. Further South, the Sweetwater League has been using pyramidal questions for years and yet you hear nary a peep from those schools other than Olympian these days. I also believe there are still pockets of potentially non-pyramidal competition in Ventura County, the Crescenta Valley area, and elsewhere. Yes, Academic Decathlon sucks the air out of everything (I blame the LA Times‘ relentlessly fawning and uncritical coverage EVERY YEAR) in LA and Orange County, but there are plenty of opportunities to expand.
- Revive the college circuit. Where are all the graduating players going? Start working with graduating seniors this year on helping them prepare to set up new teams. Look for players from the remaining non-pyramidal teams too. Get whatever’s in the water at Berkeley down to SoCal ASAP. If there are people causing problems at the college level that keep people from playing at local schools, get this out into the open.
Now is the time to start planning for next year. There’s plenty of quizbowl left to be played this year and thus many opportunities to get the planning started over lunch, after the tournaments, and via Facebook and such in between. I wish y’all the best of luck and will see many of you at nationals!