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Brain Bowl 2016: A Reflection

The digital bus clock displayed bold red numbers - 5:45, the time, we, the members of the 2016 Brain Bowl team were told to arrive at school. The bus soon filled with bleary-eyed, drowsy students and we set off on the long trip to Yokota Air Base - the site of that day’s battle. The subdued bus rolled through the city and along the Tamagawa River while most its occupants slept. I attempted to study what I could, (which was not much) but eventually I too succumbed to the lull of sleep and dozed off in the silent bus.

As we neared the base, about two hours later, the team started to wake up and quiz one another. The air was filled with nervous tension. We all wondered: Would we be able to win? Would we continue with last year’s victory? What would our opponents be like? With no right answers to these questions in sight, we simply hoped for the best.

As we got off the bus, we were welcomed and led into the humble-sized auditorium, already half-filled with other contestants. The walls were lined with various flags of the American states. It was quite odd for me to see those flags in Japan. My observations of Yokota High School took me back to my American public school days. Nonetheless, we took a spot in the bottom left and almost immediately, the Saint Maur Brain Bowl team crowded our designated snacks table. we ransacked the plastic Halloween bowls filled with American sweets such as Pop Tarts and Spider-Man gummies, and left the Nature Valley bars mostly untouched. There was a bit of complication with the fact that some schools came unannounced and the competition started late, but once it started, it was off like a rocket.

We first had a chance to take a look at our competitors. I had expected the competition to be a much grittier, intense event but it wasn’t quite so and I managed to start relaxing. The quick-paced Yuki and Eugene dominated most of the questions in each round, but within that some of us managed to find a few footholds here and there to add a couple of more points to our score. However, the feeling of loss when a team member answered a question incorrectly that you knew the correct answer to was quite frustrating, but couldn’t be helped. In the audience, it was exciting answering questions; perhaps more so without the pressure of points and the right answer and the added benefit of being able to converse with teammates and not have to wait for our name to be called - a rule that was quite hard to get used to in the beginning.The combined efforts of the team always gave us the edge over the other teams and we managed to tie or win most of our morning rounds.

St. Mary’s was as expected, quite strong, but as the tournament trudged on ASIJ emerged as an unprecedented force to be reckoned, even more so than St. Mary’s. Thus, by noon, the paper scoreboard, plastered onto the wall outside the auditorium, had unmasked the point battle to be mainly between ourselves and ASIJ, the latter being slightly in the lead. We found the colorful marks of the scoreboard announcing ASIJ to be several points ahead of us quite unsettling, and figured they would be another obstacle that we had to overcome to win. But before we could even consider a plan of action, our empty bellies rumbled at us to go get lunch - and so we hurried off to the food court.

The food court was quite interesting - it rather reminded me of the race of small, time-worn rest centres commonly found along the major highways across the United States, a sort of “in-between” area between different worlds. Nonetheless, everyone had fun getting American fast food and conversing with each other and getting a break from the intense brain bowling that we had been subject to in the morning. The base inhabitants, also on lunch break, were also quite friendly and it felt as if I were somewhere in the US again amidst them. We didn’t plan our lunch trek very well and had to hasten back to the bus, telling the people who had gotten dessert to hurry up.

As observed during lunch, we had decided to switch attention to ASIJ, and make sure we won our match with them and we prayed for the other teams to hold out against them as well. That plan actually did unfold; perhaps by chance, ASIJ’s performance post-lunch was not as daunting, and we saw a chance to slip past and take the lead. Our matches, on the other hand, were much like the same as before, although perhaps with more intensity and determination as we actually had a goal to reach. I feel that the frequency of math and science questions given to us went up after the lunch break and so I didn’t have much to say but others started coming into their own and the team charged on.

Well, take the lead we did, and by the end of the competition, the standings were in our favor; the scoreboard, now full with points for each school, showed Saint Maur in the lead, and we were quite confident in our victory. After the all-star awards were given out, with Yuki and Eugene holding the top two spots, we were even more sure of winning and that was cemented with the presentation of ASIJ in second place. Thus, the Saint Maur Brain Bowl team was able to secure their second consecutive victory of the KPASSP Brain Bowl competition with the combined (albeit unbalanced) contributions of the team. Everyone was smiling and proud as we stood up on the podium and had our group photo taken, happy that our efforts had paid off and brought the title to our school again.

The smiles turned into perplexed laughter as we also got a giant, orange pumpkin as our prize, everyone thinking, “What are we going to do with this?” With no actual days of school in sight for over a week, our final puzzle was finding out what we could do with this giant pumpkin that was nice, but also a slight inconvenience on our way home as the bus rumbled back to Saint Maur.


Everyone was mentally exhausted, but it was a good sort of tiredness that we felt as we arrived back at Yokohama, the skies already darkening and signalling the dusk of our long day. The success of this year sits along the ones of previous years, perhaps telling of the dawn of what Mr. Scoggins so craftily described as “a new dynasty,” and giving hopes of next year’s Brain Bowl team and competition.


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