Colorado Knowledge Bowl History

It started out as another pretty much ordinary day back in the early 1970s, but then something extraordinary happened. Out of the blue, six Durango High School students converged at the San Juan BOCS director's office with an idea.

What they asked was that in addition to the athletic competitions at their high school they wanted to see and participate in some kind of academic competition that would put some of the terrific students into the spotlight and give them a chance to find out just how they might stack up academically compared to other schools in the neighborhood. That turned out to be the birth of Colorado Knowledge Bowl.

A few weeks later, with the authorization of the BOCS board and superintendents, a little 4-team event involving Durango, Pagosa, Bayfield, and Ignacio was staged at the Pagosa Lodge. The BOCS came up with some questions and the original event had each team play each other team once. Nobody in the area had ever heard of timer response units, so the event was based on who raised a hand first to answer. Each room had an administrator who was to determine whose hand went up first. Of course, nobody anticipated just how sharp the students would be, especially when multiple hands would reach for the sky milliseconds apart with practically every question. Regardless of that, everybody had a terrific time and all agreed that with a few adjustments, this activity could have a future.

A second meet was planned for later in the year, and this time, Leonard Hammock, the Southwest BOCS director in the Cortez area along with his superintendents and board asked if they could also participate. So, that next meet was the first "regional" knowledge bowl meet in the state. This time, there were 12 teams, and that is where the three-team per room setup began. This meet also featured the ‘spiffy new’ Quiztrons that were custom made for the event by a Texas electronics outfit.

The third event was held the following year featuring another refinement. Unlike the first meets in which teams were randomly assigned to rooms, the Pagosa superintendent Terry Alley suggested there ought to be some way to insure that an especially strong team not get paired with a weaker team at the outset. Such a pairing resulted in the strong team getting an insurmountable lead at the end of the first round. This was where the idea of the written round was introduced as a way of determining which teams would be initially assigned to rooms and where the concept of a power tournament was born; each team score was cumulative throughout the event and room assignments were based on total accumulated points at the end of each round.

Word of the event started getting around the state, largely due to the BOCS Association meetings, and soon the plans were laid for the first Colorado Knowledge Bowl to be held at Fort Lewis College under the auspices of the BOCS. The historical record does not show what hoops each team from throughout the state had to go through to qualify. This was all still experimental (pretty much!). The college president, Rexer Berndt, made a fabulous and genuinely heartfelt welcoming address to the teams, and thus started the two-day event, capped by the final round read by Governor Dick Lamm, who also presided over the awards ceremony for the division and overall winners. Thus was born the concept of the Governor’s Cup for the overall champion of Colorado Knowledge Bowl.

Hosted and organized by several key people, and practically without any outside financial support, there has been a Colorado State Knowledge Bowl every year since in addition to loads of regional, league, and invitational meets held annually involving thousands of Colorado's finest young scholars. None of this would have been possible without the care, support and the ‘labor of love’ by an array of terrific individual teachers who organize the teams, arrange for practices, host events, and do all the unsung legwork to make this kind of activity possible.

Over the years quite a few educational leaders from other states have come to see the Colorado State Knowledge Bowl, and have established what have become long-standing statewide events in many other parts of the country based on this format. It is ‘right amazing’ to think all of this started with an idea from a half-dozen high school students some four decades ago.

Colorado Knowledge Bowl, also known as the state tournament, had a tournament site at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO for a number of years before moving to Adams State in Alamosa, CO during the 1990's. After the tenure at Adams State, Colorado Knowledge Bowl moved to Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO for well over a decade ending with the 2015 tournament. In 2016, the tournament moved to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO where a partnership with the Admissions Office provided low cost access to great facilities. The tournament timing was shifted from mid-April to mid-March with this move to Colorado State to take advantage of the available facilities during the university spring break. Colorado State also provided enhanced wireless access that made electronic posting of scores and automatic updates sent by push-technology to cell phones, tablets and computers a welcome reality for the first time in 2018. Teams were relieved of the need to monitor a physical score posting site to get updates for the start of the next round.

In 2018, for the first time, Colorado Knowledge Bowl scholarships for entry into Colorado State University were awarded to each class championship team for a team member or a school mate starting their college career in the fall of 2018. The University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO, in 2019, in a similar nod to the excellent potential of Knowledge Bowl competitors, provided Colorado Knowledge Bowl scholarships for entry at UNC to each class championship team. Thus, in 2019, each class championship team received two $1000 scholarships to award as a result of their success at the tournament and to encourage continued learning at Colorado higher education institutions.

Contributed by Bill Brown, Academic Hallmarks©, Durango, CO and Ken Blehm, Greeley, CO