Alliance among SW Va. high schools leads to academic team success

Nick Shepherd • Jul 29, 2017 at 2:00 PM

An alliance among high schools in Southwest Virginia to improve the performance of academic teams has been a smashing success — leading to a state champion, a state runner-up and appearances in national tournaments.

The Southwest Virginia Academic Team Alliance (SWATA) was started as a Facebook group by Honaker High School alumnus Jacob Mitchell, who is also an undergraduate at Yale University, according to a press release. The group was started to have a conversation about quiz bowl, which is a national standard for academic competition.

“SWATA is a regional attempt to make a lot of Scholastic Bowl alums’ dreams come true,” Honaker High School coach Charlie Perkins said in the release. “These are the best and brightest students in our area. Knowing information is one thing, but it takes a lot of poise, focus, and determination to play this game well, and the players should know that their hard work is being celebrated.”

For many years, Honaker was the only consistent quiz bowl competitor from the region. Gate City High School began sporadic quiz bowl appearances in 2011, 2014 and 2016. But travel distance was an issue.

So coaches and players began having more discussions in the Facebook group and outside of the Facebook group. They wanted more consistent tournaments in the area. More people joined in, including interested community members and alumni.

According to the release, the alliance could offer that environment.

“A lot of us in the area were thinking of continuing to expand our schedules to get better, but we needed a common catalyst,” said Gate City co-coach Sarah Whisenhunt in the release. “What Jake (Mitchell) and Charlie (Perkins) did with SWATA was what we needed. It was obvious what Honaker was doing was successful and there were enough people interested to get more local opportunities for the talent we have in Southwest Virginia.”

Whisenhunt and Perkins collaborated with the coaches from Tazewell High School and Richlands High School to develop a fall quiz bowl circuit in Southwest Virginia. Each school hosted a Saturday tournament in the National Academic Quiz Tournament format during the Scholastic Bowl regular season, the release said.

All tournaments were open to schools from Southwest Virginia, from Lee County to Wythe County. If a high school had teams that were new to the quiz bowl format, registration discounts were offered and equipment and staff provided.

The addition of a fall circuit for the quiz bowl helped improve the participating teams.

“A lot of what the kids had in quiz bowl came up again in Scholastic Bowl,” Gate City co-coach Mary Alice McClellan said. “I think the teams that played in SWATA were very prepared for conference, region, and even the state tournament. We heard a lot of questions and we got a lot of opportunities to improve.”

Before the alliance launched the fall circuit, only two schools in Southwest Virginia had been invited to participate in one of three national quiz bowl tournaments. This year, four schools were invited, including Gate City, which was invited to participate in the High School National Championship Tournament in May.

For the students, it has created lasting memories.

“This season has been an indescribable experience,” declared rising Gate City sophomore Kallie Berry. “For me as a freshman to play in SWATA and go to state and nationals is mind-blowing. I was blessed to join not just a team, but a family.”

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