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Southold academic bowl team competes in national competition

An accidental switching of competitors’ scores during the National Academic Association’s recent academic bowl cost Southold High School’s junior-varsity quiz team a spot in the playoffs, a representative from NAA said.

After 20 years as founder and adviser to Southold’s JV and varsity academic quiz teams, teacher Ivan Santiago finally saw one of them qualify for nationals.

The team of six Southold students traveled to Washington, D.C., for the NAA academic bowl, held May 30 through June 2, where about 75 teams of elementary, middle and high school students competed head-to-head.

But Mr. Santiago’s joy was short-lived: Despite winning four of six matches, the team was incorrectly ranked seventh — just missing the sixth-place mark to move on to playoffs.

Members of the Southold team — co-captains Joseph Kneuer and Benjamin Ward, Matthew Messana and Matthew Mullen, all sophomores, and freshmen Ellie Alloway and Christine Kneuer — brought knowledge and special interest in a mix of disciplines to the contest, Mr. Santiago said.

“This year, we have a liberal arts student, a mathematics student, a history student, a pop culture student,” he said. “I expected the team to do very well, but I didn’t expect them to get so far.”

The team had placed fourth in the Long Island Academic Long Island Academic Competition held by Regional Quiz Bowl and was then invited to one of the four NAA competitions. They had high hopes for their first nationals game.

So when the incorrect results appeared on the display screen at the competition, Benjamin said, he was surprised.

“Out of the six games, the general consensus was if you won four and lost two, you’d probably move on,” he said. “But it was our first time there, we weren’t really sure what we were doing … We just assumed we had done not as well, and that was it.”

According to the organization’s website, advancement to the final-day single elimination round is determined by performance in the six preliminary games. All teams with win-loss records of 6-0, 5-1 and 4-2 make the playoffs, it states.

Mr. Santiago said he didn’t question it; he just assumed that other schools with a 4-2 record somehow had a higher accumulation of points.

But after final results were posted last Tuesday, Southold High School students, parents and teachers came to a stark realization: The scores for Southold and Paul Blazer High School from Ashland, Ky., had been reversed — leaving Southold with an inaccurate 3-3 record. In fact, Mr. Santiago said, Southold’s total points were higher than four of the top six teams.

Charles Beall, executive director of NAA, responded to a frustrated joint email from parents Mimi and John Kneuer and Nicole Alloway by offering Southold a $100 voucher toward the $600 entry fee for the 2020 competition, Mr. Santiago said.

“Believe me, you can’t be any more disappointed than I about this outcome,” Mr. Beall wrote in a June 7 email to the parents. “It’s our error, to be sure, and I’ve reprimanded the moderator who transposed the scores.”

In a phone interview, Mr. Beall said such errors happen annually. However, he said, this is the first year they weren’t notified in advance and able to modify the score list. This year, he added, teams were urged to keep track of their own scores throughout the competition.

“It’s a miscarriage of justice and, ultimately, it’s on us,” he said. “But on the other hand, I said to them, ‘You need you to share in the blame for this. You need to advise us of any errors.’ ”

Regardless, all members plan to remain with the JV team. They’ll shoot for the playoffs next year, Benjamin said.

“We have a bunch of strong members, and we make a great team,” he said.

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