Bouts of Knowledge: Bishop’s Academic League Team

They won last year’s city championship, now they look to repeat success
With boisterous and jovial rounds of questioning coming from the door, the Bishop’s Academic League team practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in Dr. Banta’s upper Gilman classroom.
With boisterous and jovial rounds of questioning coming from the door, the Bishop’s Academic League team practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in Dr. Banta’s upper Gilman classroom.
Summer Hu

When Nason Li (‘25) made the left turn into Academic League (AL) team advisor Dr. David Banta’s room at the top of Gilman which overlooks the Quad, he knew he was at home. His teammate Linus Banta (‘25) had convinced him to attend the practice in 8th grade and, since then, he’s been an avid member of the varsity team. 

As someone who enjoyed participating in History Bowl in middle school, which has a similar format to AL, but with an emphasis on history questions, Nason knew that this type of competition format was right up his alley. 

“I felt like I was a little kid stepping into a candy store,” Nason said, “It was basically love at first sight.”

The Academic League team is one of the lesser known groups of the four academic teams (Speech and Debate, Model UN, and Mock Trial) at Bishop’s. Starting in late January, the team began competing in Thursday night matches against other schools, which consist of answering questions from a variety of topics, ranging from art history to science. 

The varsity team has since won five of their first six matches, snatching their first match of the season against La Jolla Country Day. Junior varsity has also won five out of six matches, with novice notching two wins out of six. Students were thrown questions from subjects and topics that they may have no knowledge about. From art history to an obscure fact about 18th century eating habits, students can never predict what the next question will be about.

The Bishop’s Academic League team visited a TV studio for the San Diego County Board of Education during a televised exhibition match against other teams in the county.
(Dr. David Banta)

Sitting at the end of the room, the team’s unofficial mascot, Muffler, which is a dog stuffed animal, observes the bouts of questioning during the Tuesday varsity practices and Wednesday and Thursday junior varsity and novice practices after school. Because the AL team used to have loud buzzers, the brown and white dog would be used to “muffle” the noise, hence the name. But now, the team uses a series of five red buzzers, connected with wires that line the sides of the room. 

Starting at 3:00 on AL practice days, if you walk down the halls you can hear the sounds of the buzzers and Dr. Banta resetting them after each question. The sounds of students debating answers, groaning at wrong answers, and cheering at right answers are even louder. The slight echo to the room amplifies the practice atmosphere, which senior varsity captain William Guo describes as  “rambunctious” and lively. 

Unlike other academic teams on campus which have a “brute-force” competitive nature, Nason described the team’s competitiveness as “relaxed-ish.” Everyone is eager to learn new facts and expand their knowledge. With desks lining the edges of the room, AL team members sit across from one another, a room structure that fuels competitive spirits and makes it all too easy to jeer at the other side.

Selene Wang (‘25) said she joined the team in her sophomore year to learn more about a variety of subjects. “I stayed in AL because of the team atmosphere,” she said. “Everyone is very knowledgeable, and when someone answers a question correctly, there is a kind of collective pride. We love complaining about ridiculous questions together, we love talking about all kinds of niche knowledge, and we love laughing together.” Selene mentioned that AL gave her the opportunity to broaden her knowledge into areas she wasn’t as familiar with, such as literature and fine arts. 

Linus put his motivation to compete in AL simply. “I like answering questions. I like showing that I’m smart. I’m not gonna deny that,” he said. 

With its improvisational and quick-thinking competition format, students also gain valuable skills that they can apply to other areas. During practices, AL members practice being confident enough in their answers to hit the buzzer and the timing of hitting the buzzer. “You want to be as fast as possible, but also as confident as possible,” Dr. Banta said, “getting those two things to meet is a skill a lot of ninth graders coming in need to work on.” But even so, competitions and questions are unpredictable and hard to prepare for. “You just have to love to read random Wikipedia pages all the time,” William said.

The AL team won against Patrick Henry High School in the city championship last May. (Dr. David Banta)

Although the weekday practices are lively and jovial, the team holds a quieter presence on campus. “There’s a nerdy, competitive idea surrounding [AL] because it does require you to know a lot of things, but I think that’s an over exaggeration,” William said, “the people are super friendly and you don’t have to worry about people hogging questions.” 

The AL team has been around since before Dr. Banta knows. Maintaining a long-standing pattern of succession, Dr. Banta inherited the team from former AL advisor Mr. Richard Del Rio, who had inherited it from Mr. Kent Hartman. Dr. Banta thinks that the team has been around since at least the 1990s, making it one of the older groups on campus. 

“I think AL is a lot less well-known than Speech and Debate or MUN because it’s less publicized,” Nason said. William agreed with that sentiment, saying that he feels the AL team is less recognized than other teams, partly due to mellow marketing campaigns. 

I felt like I was a little kid stepping into a candy store…It was basically love at first sight

— Nason Li ('25)

Last year, which was the first year of AL playoffs post-Covid, the team won city championships, beating out other teams in their league like La Jolla High, La Jolla Country Day, Mira Mesa High School, University City High School, Scripps Ranch High School, and Francis Parker. The varsity team came in as a number two-seeded wild card team against a dominant Francis Parker squad, who was the number one seed. Missing several senior starters, Nason, Selene, and Linus (who were members of the novice team at the time) stepped up to the plate and upset Francis Parker in their league finals. The team went on to beat Patrick Henry High School in the city championships, earning a spot at the county championship, which was broadcasted live. The year before the pandemic, the team also won city championships. “That year we were the overdog,” Dr. Banta said.  

Despite the team’s successes, it has still maintained a humble position on campus. “We won city championships last year, but I don’t think a lot of media attention went to that,” Nason said. Although the biggest fans in the stands are now mostly parents, in the past, some matches used to be packed with students. “It got a little rowdy,” Dr. Banta said, when remembering a La Jolla High School match in the past. 

Behind the scenes, the team is working hard to prepare for their next match — which is on March 7th at Bishop’s in the Manchester Board and Dining Room — while of course having fun.  “I think that Academic League has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and I’ve had so much fun in it…I look forward to winning more victories in the future!” said Nason.  

The AL team’s 2020 season got cut short due to the Pandemic. Alumni from the class of 2020 and former team members Sabrina Fogle, Michelle Fan, Tobey Shim, Yasha Kharrati, Miles McInerney, and Eric Zhang made up the AL team who Dr. Banta called “the up-dogs,” rather than the underdogs.
(Dr. David Banta)
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