Homeschoolers win televised quiz bowl against Michigan schools
by Jeff Koch
Posted 5/14/15, 08:00 am
Isaac Van Loh, 16, says his team’s victory on a Michigan quiz show helped to vindicate homeschooling and prove its rigor. The Lansing Homeschooler Chargers’ win on April 29 was the first time in the 26-year history of QuizBusters, a show on Michigan PBS affiliate WKAR-TIV, that a homeschool team nabbed the championship.
“It shows that we’re not just sitting at home or going on field trips to the amusement park. We’re actually learning stuff,” Isaac told the Lansing State Journal.
The Chargers faced formidable opponents in the Okemos Chieftains, who had consistently dominated the 60-school tournament. The Chieftains were the returning champions.
Both teams faced a gauntlet of questions ranging from particle physics and Scottish literature to botany and African geopolitics—a range of inquiry likely to inspire panic in most adults. Yet kids on both teams remained calm and collected, routinely buzzing in answers before host Matt Ottinger could even squeeze out the first few words of his question.
Chargers captain Lily Van Loh, 18, (Isaac’s older sister) scooped up the first two answers. From there, the Chargers never looked back until the ending bell declared them the winners 390–310. Lily exhibited focus and ease throughout the intense competition, though she assured me it had not always been quite so. Her first quiz competition, during her freshman year, was also on TV. She buzzed in without having any idea what the answer to her question was. Years of practice and hard work honed her skills and those of her teammates.
“We learned to play really good quiz bowl through trying and losing a lot of games,” teammate Derek Edwards said in an interview with The Lansing State Journal. The Chargers’ other secret was not to make quiz prep an obsession. Van Loh family dinners were not organized into complicated interrogations, nor were the teens subjected to midnight wake-ups to probe their mastery of presidential minutiae. While many schools devote extra study and resources to quiz bowl preparation—strategically assigning spheres of knowledge to team players—the Chargers let their capabilities overflow from general study. Of course, playing quiz bowl made them quickly apply what they learned, resulting in what Lily termed a “beautiful cycle” of motivation. Quiz bowl “made my life a hundred times easier,” agreed Lily and Isaac’s mom, Naomi Van Loh.
Lily also credited the Christian faith of team members with keeping them all grounded. She explained that QuizBusters creates an environment where kids can become “cocky and insufferable” as adults heap compliments on them. The Chargers stood out by carrying themselves with humility. Not that there weren’t occasional struggles, Lily admitted. But she laughed recalling how whenever they entered a match feeling overconfident, they invariably suffered a sound beating: “That’s not just embarrassing on a physical level. There are lessons to be learned on a spiritual level, too, that I won’t forget.”
Lily was excited at how her experience will help toward her goal of becoming a teacher since now she knows “how to get a kid to love to learn.” She acknowledged the hardest part of getting kids involved is their fear of being wrong. She said, “You can’t let it crush you, but you have to pick up and buck up and move forward” to get better.
Jeff is a mortgage lender and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. He lives with his wife and their eight children in the Chicago area.