1966 GE College Bowl: Agnes Scott vs. Princeton
February 5, 2009 8:47 PM   Subscribe

In 1966, NBC broadcast a GE College Bowl match between a team from Princeton University (all male, of course—Princeton wouldn't go co-ed until three years later) and a team from Agnes Scott College, a small women's college in Decatur, Georgia. In one of the most exciting upsets in the history of the program, after trailing early, Agnes Scott came from behind to win, pushed over the edge by Karen Gearreald's final answer, with only one second left on the clock. "That young lady, by the way, was the only person in the theater who could not see the clock," the program's host, Robert Earle, later wrote. "She is blind."

So where are they now? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed up with the winning Agnes Scott team and their coach in 2008. Karen Gearreald, Agnes Scott's first blind student, got her Ph.D. at Harvard, a law degree at Duke, and after years as a Navy lawyer, works on projects for the visually impaired, and has the distinction of being the personal hero of Georgia State football coach Bill Curry.

Malinda Snow, captain of the Agnes Scott team, is a professor of English at Georgia State University, and is a Sacred Harp shape note singer (she wrote the article on Sacred Harp in the New Georgia Enclyclopedia).

Katherine Bell died in the 1980s, after a career as a botanist that included research on a little-known arctic mountain plant, Kobresia bellardi. She taught botany and ecology at the University of Nevada.

Betty Butler Ravenholt is an internationally known expert on family planning (one of her papers).

And the Princeton boys, who were "knocked off by a bunch of girls from Agnes Scott"?

Team captain Steve Chernicoff, who's written several books on Macintosh computers, eventually went on to be one of the biggest winners on Jeopardy! in the mid-1990s.

Then-freshman Steve Kahler eventually decided to major in biology, and is now a professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas College of Medical Sciences.

James Kostman (who couldn't quite beat Katherine Bell to the buzzer on the question about Parmenides) became a professor of philosophy, with a special interest in Plato.

And of Frank Ward, I've found nothing, except that he did, indeed, finish his thesis on the influence of the American Revolution on the legal profession in New Jersey.
posted by ocherdraco (57 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, the program has been suspended. This is a total bummer, because I competed in the regional tournament last spring, representing the University of Missouri. I was looking forward to a second year.
posted by schyler523 at 8:54 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

As the captain of the Winston Churchill High School team that lost the 1989 DC-area It's Academic Super Bowl at the buzzer, I salute this post, and I hope my teammates and I measure up to the success of the Princeton losers. Damn you, Georgetown Day School and your knowledge of the Rump Parliament.
posted by escabeche at 8:55 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

For a little bit, I thought we were talking about Football. I hate to say it, but the story was a little more interesting that way. I mean, blind football! That'd be an excellent sub-plot for an X-Files spinoff.
posted by gc at 8:56 PM on February 5, 2009

Hehe. I was an alternate for my high school's "It's Academic!" team. Not even smart enough to get in the game.

Damn you fellow students who were nerdier than me!

That said, this is a great story.
posted by bardic at 9:04 PM on February 5, 2009

This brings back memories of high school and college academic bowl. Thanks!
posted by pointystick at 9:10 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man, total nostalgia wave. Our high school quiz bowl team was the only all-female team that we had ever encountered in our state (Michigan), and this in the year 2000! Of course weren't anywhere near as good as that team - the melody section toward the end would have been a trainwreck, as one example.

What is funniest about these videos to me is that quiz bowl is sort of oddly timeless. The reaction of the boys' faces when they are getting beat by the girls is the same now. Then again, that's the way our team looked when we got beaten by anyone, so perhaps it's not so much a gender thing as a strictly competitive thing. I mean, competition knows no boundaries, right?
posted by palindromic at 9:21 PM on February 5, 2009

Terrific post, thanks - this is the Metafilter I remember. Now return the comments to dialogue rather than insipid one-liners (not referring to this post).
posted by rotifer at 9:28 PM on February 5, 2009

So basically, you're saying that the Princeston team plays like a bunch of girls?!
posted by markkraft at 9:31 PM on February 5, 2009

Thank you for this favorite show from ages ago. Bonus points for the Where Are They Now updates.
posted by terranova at 9:36 PM on February 5, 2009

Oh yeah, did this ever bring back memories of years on my teeny tiny rural high school's quiz bowl team that always got stopped (and stomped) by the big schools. My hands are still sweating as I'm typing this, and I'm still laughing.

I'm guessing this is the closest thing I'll ever have to Hoosiers. Thanks, ocherdraco.
posted by melissa may at 9:37 PM on February 5, 2009

This is a good post.
posted by killdevil at 9:45 PM on February 5, 2009

This brings back memories of "Reach for the Top."
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 PM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hadn't seen or heard of this show before this post. As soon as I started watching it though, I recognised it. So I checked out University Challenge and sure enough, they licensed it in the 60s. I'd never noticed the College Bowl in the credits. Good post ocherdraco.
posted by tellurian at 10:17 PM on February 5, 2009

Ha! Agnes Scott. I once dated a girl who had (briefly) attended, and they called it 'Anxious Twat'
posted by eclectist at 10:25 PM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I saw the front page story and somehow thought it was about football. I was awed by the idea of this underdog women's football team who somehow reach victory through the help of their star player... a blind girl. Then I watched the first video and was a little disappointed.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:26 PM on February 5, 2009

That being said, great post!
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:27 PM on February 5, 2009

And the blind student had an obvious disadvantage in the "painting" series of questions starting at about 4:35 in your "After trailing early" link.
I do way, and I mean way better at Jeopardy when I can read the clues faster on screen than AT can read them.

Bear with me here.

I was on a bus on Eastlake Ave in Seattle and a young woman had a seizure. Not a "Holy Fuck" seizure, she was sitting toward the front on the bench seats of an articulated bus. First her head shook back an forth, then she started pawing the air in front of her. If she was in some danger people would have responded. As it was they were embarrassed on her behalf and embarrassed that they didn't respond. She was OK soon. Perhaps worried what had happened. But healthy.
I was kindled.
The bus crossed the short bridge and turned to the right on it's normal route. There was a blind woman there. Probably in her late twenties. I don't know if she was recently blind or late for an appointment, but she was frantic. As the bus pulled up she was vigorously tapping to where she thought the front (entry) door would be. She missed, tapping on both sides of the sign she ran nose first into the sign. I'll never forget the sight of her bouncing off of that sign and the audible gasp from everyone on the bus.

It was my stop but I broke the rules and exited through the front door. And said "Are you ok? What are you looking for"

I wouldn't know what to do without my eyes.
posted by vapidave at 10:47 PM on February 5, 2009

Wow. This is awesome. I was in Quiz Bowl in high school, and we did OK. We actually seemed to get stomped by the more rural schools, who seemed to be a lot more diligent about studying question topics instead of just going in with what you know. Most of our team members went to the same college (actually, the University of Missouri, schyler523) so we competed in the yearly just-for-fun tournaments put on by the student association. Our goal each year was just to place high enough to get the free t-shirts (usually 4th place or higher) and we succeeded every time.
posted by zsazsa at 10:59 PM on February 5, 2009

Shit's gettin' way too complicated for me.
posted by mazola at 11:01 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Blind people can be monstrously good at trivia. All those neurons most people waste on knowing what everything looks like have to get used for something.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:11 PM on February 5, 2009

Turns out the first iteration of this college/quiz format dates all the way back to 1948 Britain. Cool beans.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:23 PM on February 5, 2009

I loved College Bowl. My team captain, a grad student, was a College Bowl titan, easily scoring 90% of our points. He had also been in the Bowl 6 years in a row, stopping only when the College Bowl instituted a 4 year limit. I fully expect him to do well on Jeopardy some day.

He had an almost telepathic abilty to match the first few syllables of a question with the correct answer. One example went something like this:

moderator: His play appeared in the window ...
buzz! Pope John-Paul the Second.
moderator, stunned: That is correct.
posted by zippy at 11:24 PM on February 5, 2009

That was great. I'm glad they kept the commercials in too.
posted by frobozz at 12:00 AM on February 6, 2009

No thread mentioning University Challenge is complete without Scumbag College v. Footlights College, Oxbridge.
posted by Jakey at 2:40 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sadly, footage of Stephen Fry appearing on the real University Challenge doesn't appear to be on youtube, expect for a very short excerpt. Just like zippy's captain, he seemed to be able to give the correct answer having heard only a word or two of the question. Really impressive...
posted by pharm at 2:57 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

What a great post. Fun, informative and interesting for lots of reasons.

When I was a kid it was assumed most educated women, who all, it was assumed would be wives, would -if they chose to belittle their femininity and make money- become secretaries, nurses or schoolteachers. It was a glorious shock and relief, a triumph, in 1986 to visit my younger sister (an archeologist/art historian) at Bryn Mawr and see a wall by the cafeteria with job offers of engineer and scientist. Tears sprang into my eyes with the wonder and good of it. Never forgot that moment.

College Bowl was Granny's favorite show. It is a bummer it's been suspended. aww.

Nostalgia fun and the show is pretty cool too. So impressed how much everybody knew. Things that seem unlikely to be known today and so effortless for them, like being able to sing snippets of classical symphonies. Only Katherine Bell's bun looked dated. Sad she died so young. I loved the camaraderie of both teams, lots of patting. All of the contestants, male and female, were quite timelessly beautiful and likable.

I got a kick out the vid in part because it shows the old Toast-R-Oven commercial in which it says it helps make hors d'oeuvres (can you imagine a commercial that mentions hors d'oeuvres these days?). The simplicity of showing the hair dryer and the box it comes in side by side seems delightfully simplistic, almost blasphemous somehow, just the raw item, not much seductive razzle dazzle.

Curious what the hell Sacred Harp music is (I love harp music) I looked it up. A type of uplifting, old-fashioned spiritual singing that seems to make people twinkly eyed. Sacred Harp Singers.

Loved knowing what happened to those young and beautiful brainiacs. Strange, it was kind of a shock to see images of them aged. Glad they all went on to have successful brainiac lives.

Anyway, juicy and well put together post ocherdraco.
posted by nickyskye at 3:21 AM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is brilliant. I don't have time right now to say how much this has made my morning, so ... Thank you.
posted by grabbingsand at 4:28 AM on February 6, 2009

High fives; awesome post.
posted by The Straightener at 5:28 AM on February 6, 2009

This show, along with Jeopardy! (with Art Fleming) that are responsible for turning me into the trivia maven that I am today.

And, to be honest, I'm glad the "[more inside]" wasn't about how they all died alcoholic, penniless wrecks.
posted by tommasz at 5:42 AM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I watched the first segment then started googling furiously, curious to see what had become of those people. Then I came into the thread and they were all right there. This is why I love MetaFilter.
posted by Floydd at 6:13 AM on February 6, 2009

I'm in awe of this post, and even more in awe of those kids.
posted by Eyebeams at 6:32 AM on February 6, 2009

Ah, the glory that is quiz bowl. My team's victory once made an opponent storm out of the room in anger and humiliation, confirming every stereotype about the kids at affluent schools.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:35 AM on February 6, 2009

I've always been fond of the story of John Bellairs and the 1959 GE College Bowl (the first year to be televised!). From bellairsia:

During the commercial break Ludden commented on Bellairs' ability to not only to buzz in quickly but also speak fluently in Middle English. Bellairs commented matter-of-factly, "My mother is Middle English. When I was a child, we spoke it at home all the time."

Gibson relates that "even though all the contestants, the students, and the host broke out in laughter, after the show and even beyond, our team, and various other friends, were sure that Ludden had taken the 'Middle' in Middle English to be geographical; something like Southern or Midwestern English."

The end result: the boys from South Bend won 230 to 110.

Two days later the triumphant Notre Dame team returned home where a crowd of 4000 students, professors and citizens turned out to welcome them back much like the Fighting Irish Football team. Bowen recalls hearing the chant 'Go Bellairs! Quote Chaucer!' - "a moment to make any English major's heart beat proudly."
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:20 AM on February 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

What is the first sword in the final question? I can't quite catch the name.
posted by Eyebeams at 7:31 AM on February 6, 2009

OK, now I hear it - Balmung, the sword of Sigfried.
posted by Eyebeams at 7:39 AM on February 6, 2009

Malinda Snow taught me to love 18th Century British lit--her course was the first I took in grad school, and I went on to get a PhD in the field (and Dr. Snow was on my exam board). Hoo boy, her love of trivia never waned--woe to the student who couldn't name every edition of Cowper's works. She has a gentle, friendly manner and a real dedication to her students' welfare, characteristics that are often lacking in grad school professors. I never knew about her College Bowl achievements--thanks, ocherdraco!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:57 AM on February 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

"Knocked off by a bunch of girls from Agnes Scott." Please. More proof of what every women's college alumna knows (and this one is, in fact, an Agnes Scott alum)... we're not at girl's schools without men, but at women's colleges without boys.
posted by amelioration at 8:11 AM on February 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

This member of the 2002 Junior Level Ottawa-Carleton District School Board Reach for the Top Championship Team, who correctly answered the tie-breaker question to seal the victory in the final match, in a dramatic upset by one of the city's most disdained schools over its most prestigious, also salutes this post.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 8:21 AM on February 6, 2009

he seemed to be able to give the correct answer having heard only a word or two of the question. Really impressive...

Judging only from the clip, it seems more that a word or two (movie title, stars of) told him that he likely could answer the question. Calculated risk to jump, and he takes it. Once he sounded the buzzer, he still had to wrack the brain for the details. A subtle distinction, but in this sort of game, it can make the difference between winning and losing.

Mind you, excellence at this sort of thing, as with all sorts of things, is a matter of practice.
My own personal best with Jeopardy was answering the question before it was revealed, that is to say, knowing only the category. Alas, my only witness was Mrs. Jones.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:22 AM on February 6, 2009

What is the first sword in the final question?

Alex Trebek: [ Connery buzzes in ] Sean Connery. And, remember, these are words that begin with the letter "S", not "Swords".
posted by FatherDagon at 8:23 AM on February 6, 2009

amelioration, my ex-wife was a Scottie, went on to get her PhD at Emory (at age 26), and is now chair of the math department at a DC-area university. Not too shabby.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2009

Wonderfull post, thanks.
posted by dougzilla at 8:28 AM on February 6, 2009

Ah, College Bowl. Not really sad it's gone though cause formats like NAQT and ACF are far superior in just about every way, not to mention independent tournaments. Ken Jennings has a chapter about quiz bowl in its various forms in Brainiac. Highly recommended book if you like trivia.
posted by kmz at 8:45 AM on February 6, 2009

Collegebowl.com and the current College Bowl Company should not be lumped together with the admirable achievements of the GE College Bowl in the 1950s and early 60s. In fact, as a former quiz bowl player in my grad school days (including spots on two national championship teams), I would pretty much call the College Bowl Company the source of much that is venal and stupid in current collegiate academic competitions. Various shengagians by the College Bowl Company include:

1. Encouraging historically black colleges to play in segregated competitions by denying them scholarship funds if they play in quiz bowl competitions not associated with the College Bowl Company. And I quote:

From 1996 until fall 1999, HCASC [Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, a competition limited to historically black colleges] schools were only allowed to play in "licensed tourmaments;" that is, events which signed a fraudulent statement acknowledging College Bowl's illegal claim to have a trademark over all intercollegiate academic competition. This rule was eventually dropped as well.

This policy was reversed following the campaign of individuals such as Albert Whited, which stridently referred to the policy as exactly what it was (racist), and no thanks to apologists such as Tom Michael, Chris Sloan, and Hayden Hurst, who variously defended the policy outright or condemned Whited for his "intemperate" language. This is one of many examples of harsh, principled campaigns doing good in ways that compromise and obsessing over politeness never can.

Since the lifting of the ban, teams such as Morehouse and Langston have ventured to quizbowl tournaments with some success, and have certainly disproved the idiotic and bigoted notion, held by College Bowl executives, that they could not compete with teams from non-HBCU [non-Historically Black Colleges and Universities] institutions.

2. Suing quiz bowl clubs based on the false claim that they own a copyright over any academic competition that involves questions and buzzers.

3. Questions are so dumbed-down at the College Bowl Company's national tournament that the winning teams at College Bowl's national tournaments have often crashed and burned when forced to play in a more academically challenging format.

4. The article doesn't even mention that Ken Jennings doesn't play in the College Bowl Company's format, but instead works as an editor for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. I used to play quiz bowl against Ken Jennings before he got famous, and I suspect he would also be equally as critical about how the College Bowl Company has dumbed down the College Bowl brand than about how Jeopardy! has dumbed down its questions.

Okay, enough rant... But the basic gist is the company that holds the "College Bowl" trademark should not be credited with the glories of the old GE College Bowl.
posted by jonp72 at 8:55 AM on February 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

Awesome post! You should blog more often ;).
posted by trufflupagus at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2009

That's an interesting article on "The Minnesota Effect", jonp72. My perspective when I was in the game (NAQT fan, thought College Bowl format was a fun diversion), was that CBI required a whole different skillset than, say, ACF nationals. One was about encyclopediac knowledge of the canon; one was about speed and the intuition to see where a question was going after the third word. Some people that were good at College Bowl dismissed ACF as insular "stump-the-chump", some people that were good at ACF ... wrote that article.

"Therefore, top-bracket teams at other national tournaments may suffer enough losses to less-knowledgeable teams [in College Bowl] to prevent them from winning the championship or even making the playoffs. "

posted by ormondsacker at 10:42 AM on February 6, 2009

My team's victory once made an opponent storm out of the room in anger and humiliation, confirming every stereotype about the kids at affluent schools.

Were you in the New England league by any chance? When I played, there was an Ivy school's team captain notorious for throwing fits, storming out, and slamming the door.
posted by zippy at 11:00 AM on February 6, 2009

"was that CBI required a whole different skillset than, say, ACF nationals"
Yup. And there was definitely a difference in opinion on which was better.
posted by pointystick at 11:04 AM on February 6, 2009

Man, this takes me back—I loved watching College Bowl in the late '60s. Didn't see this one, though, and what a nailbiter! Great post, and now I want a Toast-R-Oven.
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some people that were good at College Bowl dismissed ACF as insular "stump-the-chump", some people that were good at ACF ... wrote that article.

Yeah, but it's not just people's idiosyncrasies about format differences. (NAQT can represent a happy medium between dumbed-down College Bowl and stump-the-chump ACF.) It's the fact that the College Bowl Company actually claimed a copyright in the right to answer questions with a buzzer, and they sued people on that basis!
posted by jonp72 at 12:47 PM on February 6, 2009

Great post. Classic MeFi.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:48 PM on February 6, 2009

It's nice to get such a positive response on my first post on the blue. As someone who mostly hangs out on AskMe, I wish I could go through the comments and "mark as best answer" all these amazing little things people are adding to it. In addition to all the college/quiz/academic bowl memories, I particularly enjoyed The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal's* comment about John Bellairs and the GE College Bowl, MrMoonPie's recollection of Malinda Snowe, and jonp72's epic comment about the College Bowl Company.

Trufflupagus, the next time I run across something that makes me compulsively search the internet to collect links, you can be sure I'll post it here.

In high school, I was on our school's Scholars' Bowl team. Our matches were televised on the local cable access channel, and I loved it. The questions were all constructed so that they gave several clues, from very general, to rather specific. I often buzzed in before the question was complete. One time, the question began "This former train station..." I buzzed, said "The Musee D'Orsay" (which was the correct answer, by the way) and was greeted with dumbfounded stares from everyone else in the room.


posted by ocherdraco at 2:10 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your first post? Damn, you nailed it. Nice one, ocherdraco.

You can--sort of--"mark as best answer"--by clicking on the [+] to mark the comment as a favorite.
posted by holgagirl at 4:22 PM on February 6, 2009

Oh, completely with you on the modern College Bowl Company's acts of fuckwittitude, jonp72. Those guys bite. Or bit. Just thought the linked anti-format argument in point 3 was weak sauce. U. Minnesota is better at speed skating than figure skating, thereby demonstrating the inferiority of speed skating?

Yay, ocherdraco!
posted by ormondsacker at 4:33 PM on February 6, 2009

Dear god there's a quizbowl wiki.
posted by frecklefaerie at 5:38 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Truffleupagus as a cool name. I use Snuggleupagus when speaking babygaga with dogs.

Yes, ocherdraco, another congratulations on a brilliant first post. wow.
posted by nickyskye at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2009

I'm a little verklempt. Wonderful post.
posted by MC Wafflestick at 9:07 PM on February 6, 2009

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