Knowledge Bowl excellence at Ridgefield High School starts with team unity

The Knowledge Bowl team from Ridgefield High School won regionals recently and later this week will be going for its third consecutive state championship. Pictured from left to right are: Adam Ford, Stuart Swingruber, Asher Anderson, James Haddix, and Emiliana Newell. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Knowledge Bowl team from Ridgefield High School won regionals recently and later this week will be going for its third consecutive state championship. Pictured from left to right are: Adam Ford, Stuart Swingruber, Asher Anderson, James Haddix, and Emiliana Newell. Photo by Paul Valencia

Ridgefield is hoping to win its third consecutive state championship this week

Paul Valencia

It is about how much you know.

It is also about how fast you know it.

But there is so much more to Knowledge Bowl.

The key to the success for Ridgefield High School’s championship Knowledge Bowl team is that its members celebrate and honor each other, even when they do not know.

“Our coach does put a particular emphasis on being a team player and really keeping the hostility within the team to a minimum,” said senior Stuart Swingruber. “Not just to keep it fun, but it’s really a vital aspect of Knowledge Bowl. We’ve seen so many times other teams tear each other apart during critical times. That’s really a key aspect for our team, avoiding that at all costs.”

Knowledge Bowl has its tense moments. It is a demanding competition. It is mentally challenging. It is a pressurized situation.

But it is also supposed to be fun. 

At Ridgefield High School, those who compete in Knowledge Bowl understand that mistakes are going to be made. But as Swingruber said, there is no finger pointing. The best teams move on to the next question, prepared to answer.

The Spudders should know. They are THE best team.

Ridgefield’s best — seniors Adam Ford, Emiliana Newell, Asher Anderson, Swingruber, and junior James Haddix — will be heading to Wenatchee on Saturday for the state championship. 

“The pressure is definitely on,” Ford said. “We’re gunning for the first ever three-peat.”

That’s right. Ridgefield has won the past two state championships.

So what, exactly, is Knowledge Bowl?

“The most commonly accepted explanation … is that it is the fastest-to-the-buzzer- Jeopardy-esque competition, where your breadth of knowledge is what allows you to kind of undercut the competition by being that much faster,” Ford said.

Ridgefield has been doing a lot of undercutting through the years. And not just with its top team. 

The Spudders rolled in the regionals. The school’s top varsity team won the title. And the school’s second varsity squad finished … second. Oh, and Ridgefield’s top junior varsity squad won the JV division. There are dozens of talented individuals in the Ridgefield program.

“All of our teams are pretty good so competing against each other really does make us all better,” Ford said.

In Knowledge Bowl, any student on the team can press the buzzer as soon as they think they know the answer. The team can gather for a few seconds, and one person gives the answer. A team can also buzz in before the end of a question. That is part of the strategy. But buzzing in before you know for certain can be risky. A wrong answer allows opponents to hear the question in full. 

“I do get a little bit nervous,” Haddix said. “I sort of get jelly legs.”

As the game progresses, though, it gets easier to handle the stress.

“You forget that you’re feeling that nervous as you get into the round, get into the groove of it,” Haddix said. 

While it is the students showcasing their knowledge in a speedy fashion during competitions, the students give a ton of the credit to the team’s coach, David Jacobson. He is a teacher at View Ridge Middle School, and he is always encouraging bright, talented youngsters to give the Knowledge Bowl a try.

Many start in middle school and just keep showing up in high school for the weekly meetings, for the training opportunities, and then the competitions.

“I was peer pressured into doing it in the seventh grade,” Ford said with a laugh. “I guess it just never made sense to stop.”

Newell participated in the Math is Cool program in elementary school. Organizers of that program suggested to her her that when she got to middle school, she should try Knowledge Bowl.

Haddix said his family has a rule that he and his siblings must find an extracurricular activity at school.

“I chose Knowledge Bowl,” Haddix said. “First practice, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is really cool.’ I just stuck with it.” 

Jacobson’s first year of teaching at the middle school was when Anderson and the other seniors this year were in the seventh grade. 

“I like this teacher guy. He’s always smiling. That seems like a fun thing to do,” Anderson recalled. “I go in there, and I just had a blast. I’ve had so much fun with it. Every practice, every week, it’s always super fun.”

Everyone associated with Knowledge Bowl has the smarts. But it takes a quality coach to match up strengths to form the best possible team. And chemistry counts. No, not just for the science questions. It is about the bond that teammates share.

Ridgefield’s team is a true team.

“Knowledge Bowl is a mental sport. Something incredibly important to victory is your mental state,” Anderson said. “Yes, we’re nervous, but something that we like to do before competitions is talk about the things we are grateful for, or the things we like to do for fun, just to get us in a good headspace.”

From those moments, something magical happens.

“I love myself and I love my teammates, and I want to help them have fun doing this with me,” Anderson said. “That’s an emotion we all share here, and that is one of the reasons we don’t have that infighting.”

Knowledge Bowl has had a huge influence on their lives.

“I wrote about this in my college application essay,” Newell said. “A big pull for me is the community, feeling validated for things you’re interested in. It’s nice to have a group of people that you can joke around about these things, and they get the jokes. We have a bond.”

They also have fun with their classmates who are not in Knowledge Bowl. The Knowledge Bowl students enjoy being the ones who know a lot about a lot of things.

“It’s the ultimate validation of the things you like to read about for fun that other people think you’re weird for, so there you get to flex a little,” Ford said.

Ridgefield is hoping to excel this weekend at state, and qualify for the national event. The team is also preparing to go to Atlanta this spring for Quiz Bowl, another academic trivia competition but a different format. A lot of their travel is supported by the Ridgefield Public Schools Foundation.

The Knowledge Bowl team is appreciative of all the help, from the foundation and the rest of the Ridgefield community.

Knowledge Bowl has taken team members across the country. They know where it all started, though, right at home in Ridgefield, with their coach.

“A big reason we’ve been able to get this far is he is really passionate about supporting us,” Newell said of Coach Jacobson. “His room is filled with our trophies. You can’t even see his desk anymore.

“He has helped us and inspired us.”

While the first varsity team is preparing for state, it should be noted that dozens of students are part of the Knowledge Bowl team at Ridgefield High School. They all have contributed to the program’s success. Here is the list of those who participated with the high school program this academic year, courtesy of Coach Jacobson:
Adam Ford (senior)

Emi Newell (senior)

Stuart Swingruber (senior)

James Haddix (junior)

Asher Anderson (senior)

Trenton Stevens (senior)

Nathan Walker (junior)

Sadie Ford (sophomore)

Lauren Kelly (sophomore)

Bennett Anderson (sophomore)

Satjot Singh (sophomore)

Satraj Singh (freshman)

Ethan Sigman (sophomore)

Alice Burt (freshman)

Isaac Proctor (freshman)

Emma Laughlin (freshman)

Gracie Hutchison (sophomore)

Emma Chapin (sophomore)

Kylee Clarke-Henderson (sophomore)

Christian Hulse (senior)

Antonella Laudadio (sophomore)

Jaisey Pace (freshman)

Tobin Ross (freshman)

Marshal Turner (freshman)

Gabriel Beltran (freshman)

Margaret Turner (freshman)

Katie Thiel (freshman)

Westin Walker (freshman)

Chase Evans (freshman)

Jade Gonzalez (sophomore)

Madden Moses (sophomore)

Keegan Wallace (sophomore)

Elizabeth Ibarra (freshman)

Dominic Cicchetto (freshman)

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