You can interrupt a question at any time to answer it, but you'd better make sure you're answering the right question. If your team gives an incorrect answer, you lose five points. If the opposing team then answers it correctly, they get ten points. So how much does a wrong answer cost you? Fifteen points. If you think you know the answer, don't answer the question. Only answer the question if you know that you know the answer.
At Malden Catholic's Quiz Bowl, however, middle school students master considerably more than just what they're already studying in class. They learn about themselves, and in the process gain a tool chest of life skills that will make them better at whatever they do. That's why I really like coaching St. Patrick's Quiz Bowl teams. (Of course, placing high on the day's rankings doesn't hurt!)
Studying six subject areas and five wild card topics takes dedication. But that's less of a burden when it all becomes a game. It doesn't take long for kids to realize that even the least interesting facts can be riveting when there's someone else sitting across the room who wants to win as much as you do.
Coach Lombardi was wrong. Winning isn't everything, nor is it the only thing. While competition is fun, it's a flash in the pan. Friendship and genuine teamwork lasts forever. So does the camaraderie of meeting kids from other schools all engaged in the quest that learning is. Being part of something larger than just you, discovering the strengths of others as well as your own, acknowledging your limitations, and seeing that hard work has the potential to surpass natural talent: participating in Quiz Bowl has a lot of benefits.
The one thing I love best, though, is watching kids at that early-teen, in-between age grow in confidence. Sure, there are always a few who think they know a lot, and don't -- at least not yet. But there are also a few kids every year who know more than they think they do, but are certain only of their uncertainty. It's easy to let the air out of an overblown adolescent ego, but not so easy to give someone the courage to raise his hand, and raise it first.
It's never easy to stick your neck out and take a risk, even if you know that you have the answer. I think that's the kind of anxiety that keeps us from sharing our faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, it's also tempting to shrink back when we don't clearly hear the real question that is being posed.
For more people than not, the world is full of unanswered questions. Even more numerous are the questions left unasked. Who am I? Where can I find love? Is there more to life than I can see? But if you listen carefully to the conversation in the checkout line or the school parking lot at pick up; if you turn your head long enough make eye contact with the driver stopped next to you at the traffic light, you won't be able to hear anything but an insistent plea for meaning, a desire for some way to make sense of it all.
As Catholic Christians, we have what everyone needs. The question we've got to answer is why on earth we keep Jesus to ourselves when someone we meet, or know, or live with needs him. What would any of us really lose if we just jumped in and told someone that the what they were looking for was really a who? Like I said, you can interrupt a question at any time to answer it. Just make sure you're answering the right question.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.