Through countless hours spent reading old copies of the Columbia Daily Spectator and scrounging tidbits of information from that cruel mistress of digital knowledge that shares her wealth only grudgingly, the internet, I have pieced together some information about the ancestors and past of Columbia University Quiz Bowl. I present to you my humble offering. --Raza Panjwani, CC '07
An (In)Auspicious beginning
It seems that Columbia played a significant role in the beginning of the College Bowl phenomenon, when it was just getting on its feet in the 1950's. Originally started as a USO activity during WWII by Canadian Don Reid, who later collaborated with John Moses to develop the game into a radio show. The very first known "College Quiz Bowl" match was aired on NBC radio October 10, 1953 with Northwestern University, broadcasting out of WMAQ in Chicago, defeating Columbia, broadcasting out of WNBC in New York, 135-60. Not exactly the start of a great tradition, but a landmark occasion nevertheless.
That first Columbia College Bowl team featured Joe Ishy of Plymouth, MA, Bill Scales of Shreveport, LA, Bill May of Milwaukee, WI, and Howard Thalberg of New York, NY. Although the first question went unanswered, Columbia scored the first ever toss-up points in Quiz Bowl history on the next question, when either Ishy or Thalberg identified "John Hay" as the U. S. Secretary of State responsible for the Open Door Policy to China.
At this point each team was playing in a local radio station, 'ringing in' by raising their hands, where a studio referee would then inform host, "Master of the Quiz" Allen Ludden, broadcasting from the WRCA studios. As the season progressed the show began to take on characteristics that are still recognizable in Quiz Bowl today. The "neg five" penalty made its first appearance, as did buzzers (although only studio referees used these for effect- students were still raising their hands). Also, teams started broadcasting out of on campus locations.
Later that season in show #23 which aired on March 14, 1954, Barnard College made it’s debut. The Barnard team of Rail Isaacs of New York City, Barbara Powder of Summerville, NJ, Marguerita Valguadenira of Philadelphia, PA via Palermo, Sicily, and Gerry Kirschenbaum of Brooklyn took on the reigning champs Washington and Lee University. The team put up a valiant fight, trailing by only 20 at the half, but ultimately falling short 190-165 at the buzzer.
The Barnard team would get a chance to avenge the loss 5 shows later in the beginning of the 1954-1955 season with a match that aired on October 30, 1954 against Syracuse University, the team that finally unseated Washington and Lee. A squad featuring Annette Wilhoit of Des Moines, IA, Toby Brown of Brooklyn, Donna Cricks of Cincinnati, and Judy Lewitis of the Bronx took a 125-110 lead into halftime. But the team eventually fell at the buzzer to Syracuse by a final score of 205-175.
In Columbia's final radio appearance, Columbia College took a second crack at the show on March 12, 1955 in show #47 against Colgate. The team of Tom Evans ’55 of Cincinnati, Milbourne Smith ’56 of Fort Plans, NY, Sheldon Wolf ’55 of Brooklyn, and Jerry Popper ’55 of NYC never had a chance, trailing the reigning champs Colgate 170-30 at the half before finally succumbing to the tune of 310-100.
All participants during the 2 season run were given watches by Longine Wittnauer. College Quiz Bowl ceased to run in 1955 after Good Housekeeping magazine, which had picked up the program during the second season, dropped its sponsorship after the second show of the third season.
Columbia finished the radio era of College Bowl with an 0-4 record, and the distinction of losing the first quiz bowl match ever. Truly in the spirit of Columbia, where winning has proven to be uncommon- even in academics it seems.
The Dawn of the Television Era
In 1959 CBS began broadcasting "GE College Bowl" on television, and once again Columbia University was in the forefront. In bit of deja vu, Northwestern University defeated a Lions team of Ira Jolles ’59, Alexander Liebowitz ’61, Bruce Shoulson ’61, and David Looman ’62 by a slightly more respectable 165-130 in episode #2 which aired at 5 PM on Sunday January 11, 1959.
A Woman's Game
The men of Columbia weren't the only erudite scholars making their prowess nationally known. During the 1958-59 season, the women of Barnard appeared on episodes 9, 10, and 11, ending the University's winless drought. The team consisted of Heritage (Cherry) White ’59, Susan Rennie ’61, Phyllis Hurwitz ’61, and Ellen Willis ’62 and was coached by Professor of English Richard Norman. Rennie in particular was an interesting character, a golfer hailing from South Africa where she had participated in similar quiz programs. In an interview Rennie commented “It's our absolute ambition to win this match because Columbia lost their first time out,” suggesting that perhaps Barnard would have to clean up Columbia’s mess. And clean it up they did, defeating a Notre Dame team in South bend by a tally of 230-110 on March 15, 1959. Returning home to cheering crowds, the Barnard foursome tackled the University of Southern California one week later at Minor Latham Playhouse by a score of 195-65 after jumping out to a 140-0 halftime lead. Although they would fall the next week to University of Minnesota- Twin Cities 155-90, the 2 wins were a step in the right direction for Columbia's College Bowl odyssey, which was finally heading in the right direction, and secured $3000 dollars in scholarships from the sponsors for Barnard College. Also of interest is that the Notre Dame team featured author-to-be John Bellairs who had earned notoriety for launching into a Middle English recitation of Chaucer in response to a question on the Caterbury Tales in the previous week. Magnetic tape recordings of the Notre Dame and USC matches were recently found in the English Department's files and are now held in the Barnard College Archive. A DVD of the Barnard-USC match also exists. More on that soon, hopefully.
By 1962 the show had switched to NBC with Robert Earle taking over hosting duties from Allen Ludden, and Columbia made a reappearance during the 1966-67 season. Captained by Elia Racah ’67, the 1966 Columbia squad included Derek Randal ’67, Jeffrey Rosen ’68, and Steven Ross ’68. The team was coached by Assistant Dean Mark Flanigan, who quipped to the Columbia Spectator “I am the only coach on campus with an undefeated, untied, and unscored on team.” While the Columbia team would eventually be scored on, Flanigan’s words proved prophetic. The team that Assistant coach Katharine Koch called “really offensive” turned out to be a juggernaut, defeating in consecutive weeks Providence College (300-205), Indiana University- Bloomington (250-145), Michigan State University (320-150), College of William and Mary (330-60), and Smith College (345-120) between November 6 and December 18, 1966. When the smoke settled the 5 time champions were retired from the show with $10,500 in scholarships for the school, a silver trophy for the team, and a champagne party given in their honor by Dean David Truman. In retrospect, show creator Don Reid recalled the 66-67 team, noting that "the Columbia series was one of the biggest slaughters in the College Bowl."
Not to be outdone, a Barnard team repeated the five-peat during the 1967-68 season, when their path to victory went through Bryn Mawr (205-175), Niagara University (240-165), Ohio State (295-145), Jackson College/Tufts University (225-160), and the University of Washington (175-160). Led by Debbie Weissman '70, and teammates Maggie Rosenblum '68, Rachel Val Cohen '70, and Connie Casey '69 and coached once more by Professor Richard Norman, the team first stopped Bryn Mawr from completing a 5 game sweep, and then proceeded to complete their own.
Dual Dormancy and a Return to Radio?
Nothing much happened after 1970 until 1974-76 when the show returned to radio. For the 1978 and 1979 championships, 4 shows were recorded and syndicated for broadcast. Two more episodes were broadcast in 1984 and 1987 on NBC and the Disney Channel. It seems that the CBS Radio Network featured a Columbia team team during the 1979-1980 season. More to come on that as details develop.
The Oblivion and the Return
While the good people behind College Bowl were doing there thing on and off, so it seems was Columbia. Since the early 1980's College Bowl had gone non-broadcast. Records indicate that Columbia sent teams to the CBI Regional Tournaments in 1983-84 and 1984-85, both trips ending in 3rd place finishes to Princeton and Penn. Barnard reportedly sent a team to the 1989-90 Regional, but there is no finish or results for the team.
In 1994, most likely under the auspices of Grad student Bill Atkinson, formerly of BYU, Columbia Quiz Bowl was born. The team attended CBI regionals in 1994-95 to finish 8th. The following year they attended additional tournaments and placed 4th at regionals. By the next year Columbia deaffiliated with CBI and moved on 'to greener pastures' to quote Atkinson's announcement on the alt.college.college-bowl Usenet newsgroup. The team went on to win the 3rd Annual BRRR at Cornell that year. The number of schools in the field is not listed for any year.
Web History to Current History
The 1994 resurrection lasted into the turn of the millenium and began to die out until Ben Letzler handed over the reigns and torch to Jamie Hodori and Brian Schaitkin. The club has been in safe hands ever since. Figuring out exactly what's happened hasn't been particularly easy since records are scattered and incomplete.
While the CBI Archives confirm the existence of a Columbia Quiz Bowl Club dating back to 1994, the original Columbia Quiz Bowl website lists rosters going from 1999-2000 back to the 1996-1997 year. The site also expresses a level of disdain for the CBI format, similar to that expressed by Atkinson and many other quiz bowl teams of the era, which would explain Columbia's disappearance from the CBI scene after 1995-96.
However, Columbia does not reappear anywhere significantly until the 1999 NAQT Conference Championships where the Columbia team finished 6th of of 18 participating teams in the Northeastern Conference. The following year Columbia finished 7th in the Ivy-heavy Northeastern Sectional, which we could presume would have been a team consisting of the last known Columbia roster on the ancient page. After a one year dormancy, the team returned as a Div II participant in the New England Sectional, finishing a distant third. In 2003 another Div II team finished a competitive 4th, while another team went on to win CBI Regionals in the same year.
Similarly, tracing results from ACF Nationals which begin in 1995 (the ACF website doesn't have records from 1993 or 1994) Columbia's first appearance is an 8th place finish at ACF Nationals 1999. Unfortunately ACF does not maintain records of the regional tournaments which began in 1999.
The Third measurement for competition is Penn Bowl. Columbia was present at Penn bowl 6 in 1996 to finish 12th in their division of 16. Columbia returned to Penn Bowl 13 in 2004. Everything in between is a black hole.
And that brings us to today's team. The current student organization known as Columbia University Quiz Bowl has been around since 1994-95 although it's not just what they did some years. I'm trying to find out as much as possible about the performance of the Columbia team in this 20 years, the period during which the sport of College Bowl developed into its current form.
Classic Columbia College Bowl
-Special Thanks to Tom Michael of College Bowl Valhalla
The following are the sources I used in my research.
NAQT Tournament Results
College Bowl Valhalla - This page has some great articles about the Barnard - Notre dame match
CBI School History - Barnard College
CBI School History - Columbia University
Columbia University Archives and Columbiana Library
Barnard College Archives
Columbia Daily Spectator Archives
Large portions of research were completed for Prof. Robert
McCaughey's 'Social History of Columbia University' course. The resulting
project can be viewed
although it's mostly redundant with what's here.