Perhaps the latest wrinkle in Longview's raucous high school rivalry won't go down in Civil War lore. Maybe it's already been forgotten.

There were no R.A. Long fans wearing red-and-black plaid jackets and no Mark Morris kids donning Burger King crowns in the audience. In fact, there wasn't much of an audience at all.

But last Saturday's Knowledge Bowl state championship in Richland — yes, Knowledge Bowl — had all the elements of a classic showdown.

There was suspense, controversy, a disputed finish and a bit of trash talk.

But most notable is this: In a statewide contest for quick-thinkers, Longview's two high schools marched all the way to the title game, each surviving round after round before meeting up in the three-team finale.

When the dust settled, Anacortes had won the crown, R.A. Long grabbed second place and Mark Morris took home the third place trophy.

Knowledge Bowl is an academic competition that includes both written and oral rounds in which team members answer questions on subjects that include science, math, history, literature, geography and the arts.

With one question remaining in the 50-question final round, Mark Morris and Anacortes were knotted at 13 points apiece, and R.A. Long trailed with 12 points.

Mark Morris buzzed in — wrong answer. Anacortes chimed in with the correct answer and clinched the victory.

Then things got interesting.

R.A. Long challenged a ruling on a question posed midway through the round. The Jacks felt their answer should have been accepted, even though it differed slightly from the desired response. The question asked what term describes the status of a dictator forcibly removed from the country. The desired answer was "exile." R.A. Long's went with "banishment."

Such challenges are rare in Knowledge Bowl, and coaches of both teams say they've never seen one directly affect the outcome of any competition.

Judges conferred for 10 minutes, then reversed the call, awarding the point to R.A. Long and setting up a 10-question tiebreaker round for second place between the Longview schools. R.A. Long ultimately prevailed.

"There were two goals," said R.A. Long coach Sherry Hamill. "They wanted to win a trophy and they wanted to beat Mark Morris."

The Monarchs, who finished third for the second straight season, were satisfied with the outcome, but disappointed to see their second-place trophy snatched away by the rival school.

"It unfortunately did leave a little bit of a sour taste in their mouths," said Mark Morris coach Steve Powell. "Beating R.A. Long is always a major goal here."

R.A. Long junior team member Keenan Calhoun said there was never any doubt his team would challenge the ruling.

"We were pretty sure that we were right," he said.

The two squads teamed up for Longview's best Knowledge Bowl showing in decades.

"We were pretty proud of Longview schools in general," said Tug Harris, a senior on the Mark Morris team. "I don't know if a lot of people think of Longview as a center for academic excellence."

Harris said many of the kids on both six-person varsity teams are friends.

That may be true, but it's still the Civil War.

R.A. Long's Hamill said the rivalry got a bit tense when the teams battled neck-and-neck through the season, when R.A. Long won the 15-team league and Mark Morris finished second.

A spilled soda during a league competition led to an unfriendly exchange, she recalled. Later, the Jacks took exception to the hooting and hollering and high-fiving of the Monarchs after a victory in the regional tournament. After R.A. Long's tiebreaker win at state, one of the Jacks told the deflated Monarch team that the outcome was "karma" for an earlier comment.

Powell, who serves as Knowledge Bowl's regional director, laughed when asked about those incidents. He said the kids generally get along well.

"There certainly is a rivalry," he said. "But ultimately, I don't think there is anything really deep there."

The success of both teams comes at a time when funding for the programs is limited. Last year, the school district cut all funding for Knowledge Bowl, saving about $6,000.

Through fundraisers and donations, parents and volunteers scraped together enough money to keep the program going. This year, the district reinstated stipends for the coaches, but the teams are responsible for most travel and meal expenses.

R.A. Long captain James Hamill started competing in Knowledge Bowl three years ago when a friend suggested he join. He said many of his classmates aren't familiar with the program.

"I would say a small fraction of the student population knows what we do," said Hamill, a senior.

Calhoun said he didn't know much about the competition when he showed up for his first Knowledge Bowl practice earlier this school year.

"I didn't expect to have as much fun as I did," he said.

What is the secret to Knowledge Bowl greatness?

Powell said a strong Knowledge Bowl team requires a balance of smart kids who excel in different subjects. If every team member is a math whiz, the geography questions might be a bit of an adventure, he said.

"It takes an academic curiosity to make a good knowledge bowl player," said Sherry Hamill, whose Jacks placed eighth at state last year. "A couple of these kids read Wikipedia articles and classic literature for fun."


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