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Cedar Crest High School’s Quiz Bowl team won its first statewide championship on April 28 at the Pennsylvania State Academic Championships, held at the State Capitol Building.

The team is now preparing to compete against the top teams in the country at the High School National Championship Tournament, to be held by National Academic Quiz Tournaments in Atlanta over Memorial Day weekend.

The team is coached by Cedar Crest math teacher Shane Thomas and captained by Cedar Crest senior Danny Peelen. Thomas was recognized last year as PA Quiz Bowl Coach of the year, and Peelen was recognized this year as Player of the Year by Greater PA Quiz Bowl.

By the time Cedar Crest made it to the state championships, the team had already earned its invite to the national competition a half-dozen different ways – the squad qualified first in October 2022 by winning a tournament in Pittsburgh – and has been to the national tournament for the last three years running.

But it was the very first championship at states for Cedar Crest, and their first appearance there since 2009.

The Cedar Crest team following its victory in the Pennsylvania State Academic Championships. Pictured left to right: Zach Brutko, Steven Andrew John Frank, Coach Shane Thomas, Captain Danny Peelen, Sam Joffy, and Tyler Steffy. (Provided photo)

Last year, the team won WGAL-8 Brain Busters, but scheduling complications with other tournaments prevented the Cedar Crest squad from competing in Brain Busters this year.

Read More: Cedar Crest squad emerges victorious in WGAL 8 Brain Busters championship

To get to this year’s state competition, Cedar Crest had to best the competition in the Lancaster-Lebanon league, which Thomas describes as a “blood bath” – an extremely competitive cohort, with Manheim Township the “juggernaut,” and other exceptionally strong teams from Hempfield, Lancaster Catholic, and Elizabethtown.

Thomas noted that the L-L victor has gone on to win the state championship for three of the last four years.

The last two years, Cedar Crest suffered heartbreak losses in the Lancaster-Lebanon tournament, making it to the finals but not inching out a win. In 2022, the Falcons lost two consecutive rounds to Manheim Township in the finals by a single question each.

The Cedar Crest team’s starting lineup this year consisted of Peelen, along with Zach Brutko, Sam Joffy, and Tyler Steffy, with additional support by first alternate Steven Andrew John Frank.

Winning states represents a major payoff for seniors Peelen and Joffy.

“This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said Joffy. “We talked about it freshman year. That if we study and try hard enough, this might be something that we have the opportunity to do.”

The team’s ingredients for success: relying on each team member’s particular strengths, valuing team chemistry, and getting direction from a coach who understands the competition dynamic inside and out.

Peelen considers himself a generalist, with special focus on literature and fine arts – paintings, classic music, operas, even mythology.

Peelen says some nights he can stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. looking over questions and reading Brittanica and online text books. (“This is just a Danny thing,” remarked another team member during an interview with LebTown. “The rest of us all sleep.”)

Peelen and Joffy were the backbone of this year’s team, said Thomas, noting that Peelen in general doesn’t come out – in fact, Thomas said that he’s never subbed Peelen out. Joffy as well is a constant presence, with Thomas only able to recall maybe one time when Joffy subbed himself out.

Joffy’s speciality is science – astronomy, physics, and the like, but especially astrophysics. “You can’t get a black hole question past Sam Joffy,” said Thomas.

Frank, who is new to the team this year, specializes in geography, world history, and military history.

Brutko said he acts like “cement” for the team, filling in gaps, especially with what Quiz Bowlers call “trash” questions – pop culture and sports knowledge.

“It’s not trash to me,” quipped Brutko.

Brutko also helps keep the team calm and focused, especially when Peelen is “freaking out, Brutko said light-heartedly. (“I do do that often,” admitted Peelen.)

Steffy focuses on politics and current events, an ongoing study that Steffy said he was already doing regardless of Quiz Bowl. That amounts to a lot of reading the news. Steffy said he already has all the current U.S. governors and senators memorized, and is getting really close to memorizing all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A lot of the time on politics questions, they’ll mention an obscure state representative – they’ll name the rep, I’ll hear the buzz, and see, ‘oh yeah, that’s Tyler,'” said Thomas of Steffy’s uncanny political knowledge.

Team members use digital flashcards to help with memorization.

Thomas says his specialty is listening to questions during a round and anticipating what might be coming up next, drawing on statistical distributions for how many questions are to be expected in each category, enabling him to give direction such as: “The second half of this match should be over-represented with geography, let’s make sure Andrew’s in there.”

To win states, Cedar Crest beat out Wissahickon High School and Westchester East in the finals. The team received a $2,000 scholarship for the victory, with the funds to be directed to a deserving Cedar Crest senior on a need and merit-based basis at the school’s annual senior awards ceremony.

Although the questions from the state tournament are yet to be released, Thomas provided some sample tossups – how would you fare? Remember that the goal isn’t just to answer, but answer first … so really the question is: How fast could you hit that buzzer?

The slope of a coexistence curve equals latent heat divided by this quantity and the change in specific volume. The reciprocal of this quantity is proportional to thermodynamic beta. The change in this quantity is multiplied by the mass of a material and a constant to find the heat added. (*) Superconductivity arises as this quantity is lowered below the critical point for this quantity. Gibbs free energy is equal to enthalpy minus entropy times this quantity. Name this quantity, a measure of the average kinetic energy of a system, measured in Celsius. (Answer: Temperature)

One poem in this collection describes “perfumes as cool as the flesh of children” and asserts that “Nature is a temple” with “living pillars.” This collection features a poem in which the narrator beseeches the “wisest and fairest of the Angels” to “take pity on my long misery.” This collection includes the poems “Correspondences” and “The Litanies of Satan,” and it addresses the “hypocrite reader” in its opening poem. Name this Symbolist collection whose sections include “Revolt” and “Spleen and Ideal,” written by Charles Baudelaire. (Answer: “The Flowers of Evil”)

This composer wrote an opera in which Ninetta enters singing about her happiness in “Di piacer mi balza il cor.” She is later accused of stealing a silver spoon taken by a magpie. In another opera by this composer, Lindoro is aided by a character who enters in the aria “Largo al factotum” repeating his name, Figaro. The title character shoots an apple off his son’s head in an opera by this composer whose overture contains the “March of the Swiss Soldiers.” Name this Italian composer of The Barber of Seville and William Tell. (Answer: Gioachino Rossini)

In Atlanta over Memorial Day Weekend, the Cedar Crest team will compete against 304 teams from across the country. The team will play seven preliminary matches on Saturday, followed by three more on Sunday morning, with the playoffs to start later that day. The tournament is single-elimination, except for teams that win seven or more rounds in the prelims, who can lose twice in the playoffs. Thomas said his goal is for the team to notch at least seven wins so they have that cushion.

Ten rounds in a tournament might seem tiring but it comes with the territory.

“We’re familiar with the feeling,” said Peelen.

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