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Monday, Nov. 19, 2007 As I browsed through Café San Diego looking for some inspiration for my own post, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. Mr. Kern’s and Mr. Cabrera’s lengthy discussion on campaign contribution limits — though not inaccessible by any means (double-negative intended) — seemed to be beyond me or, at least, my interest. And of course, I later found out the upcoming writers for the Café included “Brian Adams, SDSU political science professor” and “Jess Durfee, San Diego Democratic Party chairman.”

Me? Being thrust amid these other highly intelligent and far more experienced San Diegan minds? You could understand the sense of panic I felt; there was no way I could write and discuss local issues to the par of these other individuals. I frantically searched for my Staples Easy Button, but alas, it was not to be found.

Luckily, I realized that I shouldn’t be held to such expectations. I’ve yet to turn 16, and I’m a mere junior in high school. I can’t claim to be a learned professor or scientific researcher, nor should I pretend to be one. Any attempt of mine, thus, to analyze society and discuss life in an as mature or meaningful way as my “colleagues” would simply be a ruse. So what follows is a fresh outlook on life written by a teenager.

First of all, I want to offer my hearty and sincere thanks to all of you who supported me in the 2005 National Spelling Bee — before, during, and after. I totally appreciated all of it. However, when high school arrived, the last thing I wanted to do was to become the “spelling” guy or any “”something” guy (hi5 to all my fellow “The Office” fans). I needed to try new activities and find new passions. I succeeded: QuizBowl and Debate.

Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Two scintillating students in a room with an equally brilliant (or at least the students hope!) judge in front of them. The two contestants have known the resolution for weeks; they have worked diligently, have researched and read a myriad of documents, and have crafted strategic cases for and against the proposition. The two then fervently and persuasively defend their positions; each hoping that the judge will pick him or her as the winner. Sound subjective? Actually, a paradigm of judging debate rounds has been developed that makes decisions more objective and less haphazard.

QuizBowl/Academic League/National Academic Quiz Tournament (NAQT) — different names, same game: Two teams of students (usually four or five in number) compete against each other in a contest of knowledge. Questions are read by a moderator — some are as clear as a diamond while others are as turbid as the Big Muddy itself, and each team can buzz in right in the middle of the question. The questions themselves differ in difficulty and style.

In Academic League, the questions are short and sweet with both teams usually knowing the answer; the match is usually then just a question of who’s faster and who has better anticipation. On the other hand, in NAQT, the questions are written in paragraph form — usually three or four sentences long with each sentence proceeding from obscure to everyday general knowledge — thereby rewarding teams for actually possessing substantive knowledge about a given topic. However, never confuse the term obscure with the icky word trivial, for triviality borders on insignificance which is completely unrelated to depth of knowledge.

Both events require a grand magnitude of work. It’s difficult to be successful in both if your efforts are split between them, which brings me to the question that Rancho Bernardo High School debaters and quiz-bowl-ers love to discuss: What’s more important: possessing the analytical skills harbored in debate or the deep knowledge of the world fostered in quizbowl?

QuizBowl may force students to learn subjects that run the whole gamut — from Evangelista Torricelli to “Pride and Prejudice” to I.M. Pei to Tom Brady. And through my three years of participation in QuizBowl, I have most definitely become a more cultured and knowledgeable individual.

I mean really? How cool is to be watching “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” only to relate it to Virgil’s “Aeneid”? How absolutely enthralling is it to see a real Salvador Dali painting at the Chicago Art Institute after actually learning about the Spanish Surrealist master?

But after high school? Then what? Sure. There’s CollegeBowl. Sure, there are quiz shows like “Jeopardy!” But really, in the end, how will knowing that the Treaty of Portsmouth officially ended the Russo-Japanese War help me in the future? With debate, the analytical skills you gain have almost an innumerable number of applications.

If a person even debates for three to four years in high school, he or she will probably be able to quickly analyze and critique real-world positions held not only in politics but also in various other fields. Moreover, when you debate, you have to word your arguments exactly how you want your judge to perceive them which builds a lingual acuity that is very rare among the American population. QuizBowl can’t do that — most answers are four words long at the most … Great Wall of China. Yup, four words.

So debate is better, right? Unfortunately, I ended up dropping the argumentative competition three-quarters of the way through sophomore year. Why? Because I just felt a greater love for QuizBowl.

The thrill of filtering through paragraphs of information looking for the clues to deduce a preemptive answer to a given question. The teamwork and camaraderie embraced when each team-member tries to boost each other’s morale after a missed toss-up. Those amazing games that come down to a final toss-up — something sort of like a last-second make-it-or-break-it field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri. And also, because my team needs me: I help represent Rancho Bernardo and everything we Broncos stand for: diligence, a steadfast doggedness to win, and a sportsmanlike humility at the face of a close loss. (And I realize I’ve just used four fragments in this paragraph; my bad.)

And through the guise of this seemingly innocent story of a boy trying to find his new passion by contemplating each’s pros and cons exists the fundamental dilemma that even many adults struggle with. Should a guy become a doctor with a huge paycheck or pursue his passion as a ufologist who receives relatively little attention (except on those cool Discovery Channel specials)?

Should people pursue actions like applying for a job based on monetary gratification or love for the vocation? Should a politician really tell us what he or she believes despite a possible negative reaction to such a confession? Should we think and act according to our mind or follow our heart and let our natural impulsivity guide us?

The choice is mine, yours, and ours.

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