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UA student takes all in quiz bowl

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Sam Rombro smiles for a picture. (Courtesy of Randi Rombro)  

Long time quiz bowl aficionado Samuel Rombro — a University of Arizona alumnus — was named Arizona’s top scorer on June 16 in Buzzword, the national online quiz competition created by the National Academic Quiz Tournaments as an alternative way to safely compete amidst COVID-19, according to the NAQT.

Quiz Bowl is a game about the recollection of facts; a head-to-head challenge composed of two teams to answer questions across a variety of disciplines with divisions for middle school, high school and college competitors, according to the National Academic Quiz Tournaments website. 

Rombro’s career in quiz bowl began in Pikesville, Maryland, with the Pikesville High School quiz bowl team. Rombro has formally participated in NAQT quiz bowl competitions for over six years as Rombro completed his undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Maryland and graduate degree in medical physics at the UA. 

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Rombro’s love of quiz bowl came early.

“From a young age I always loved learning, learning facts and learning new things," Rombro said. "My first experience with quiz bowl was actually in middle school where we played a form of quiz bowl, which was not really like what you will see, like top high school or college level, but like, it definitely got me interested. And our school actually, like won the state championship one year. I think that is when I first realized that, you know, I was good at it [quiz bowl] and that it was something I liked to do."

As Rombro moved through his life, his passion for quiz bowls followed suit. In 2017, Rombro was part of the team that won the Academic Competition Federation Nationals hosted at Columbia University on April 22 and 23, according to The Diamondback website.

Former teammate, Naveed Chowdhury met Rombro in the early days of college quiz bowl in Maryland.

“We went to the first practice together. It was a meeting for new members of the club that is hosting in Maryland. I remember that we both realized at that meeting that we had a lot of the same esoteric interests,” Chowdhury said.

Rombro and Chowdhury also bonded over their love for the game itself.

“What makes quiz bowls special is that it draws people who are intellectually curious, who really like the idea of knowing things for the sake of knowledge." Chowdhury said. "That is what I really think drew both of us in, the idea is that you are doing it  [competing] out of your love of knowledge, not out of any real extrinsic reward. You're not doing it for prize money or anything like that.” 

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Due to COVID-19, the delivery of the quiz bowl season has changed and thus Buzzword was created according to Jeff Hoppes, vice president for communication at NAQT.

 “Buzzword is an online platform that provides NAQT quiz bowl question experience online in the safety of your own home. As well as the switch from team to individual player  competition because it is unsafe for people to go out,” Hoppes said.  

Due to Rombro’s extensive quiz bowl experience and involvement with the NAQT, he was able to experiment with this new quiz bowl format as soon as it was ready to be played. 

”Anybody can click on it and play online, or with an open division tasks so everybody can play it, whether or not they're enrolled in school, whether or not you are the physical team, you can find out, go ahead and sign up on our website, and we'll get with the appropriate questions sorted out into the appropriate position,” Rombro said. 

The game is played with audio-delivered recordings of questions with the opportunity to buzz in at any time. However, as soon as the question is asked in its completion, there are only fifteen seconds left on the clock to answer the question. There is also the opportunity to skip any questions or pause the game between questions, according to the NAQT website.

Rombro’s approach to competing changed since he left Maryland.

“When I played at Maryland, I was on a team. Once I moved here, I didn't really have a team anymore so I had to play solo," Rombro said. "Playing solo is fun because you can try and answer every single question and your stats obviously look better as a result of that. But at  the same time you kind of have to be paying more attention because basically every question is fair game as opposed to when I was in Maryland playing for a team where I would have to focus solely on answering the science questions."

Rombro’s preference in the crossover to online competition instead of in-person competitions favors the latter.

“A lot of other people, like me, have expressed concerns about online tournaments and I think the general consensus among the quiz bowl community is that in person tournaments are a superior product. I much prefer in person competition, online tournaments whether on Zoom or Discord just take a really long time compared to in person tournaments because people may have issues with their connectivity,” Rombro said. 

Regardless, the general rule of thumb for newcomers to the game is to keep at it. Once the format becomes familiar, the real fun could begin, according to Rombro. 

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Based on Rombro's reputation, it came to no surprise to him that he was a top scorer for the entire state in the 2020 Season 1 Level C College Division.

“It was nice to see that I was top scorer, I wouldn't say it was really surprising just because these questions are actually significantly easier than what I am used to. The questions are designed so that the hardest clues are first and then progressively it gets easier,” Rombro said. 

In essence, Buzzword’s digital format aims to provide all users with an accessible and user-friendly way to simulate the in-person quiz bowl competition experience without the added risk. 

“I was pretty involved with quiz bowl during my time in college, and I actually have friends who work for NAQT and at one point I also wrote questions for them as well so when they came out with Buzzword, I was one of the first people to hear about it," Rombro said. "So, I was like this seems interesting, a good way to continue to play quiz bowl even though we are not really able to do it in person right now." 

As a recent graduate, Rombro’s future career goals involved becoming a medical physicist in a research or community hospital. 

When asked about future involvement and the future of quiz bowl as a community, Rombro had hope for in-person competitions.

“I have been involved in the quiz bowl community for quite some time now and I have made a lot of friends through it. Hopefully, I am able to continue to be involved as long as I can," Rombro said. "I think definitely, when we can, COVID permitting, get back to in-person tournaments, I do not think there will be any trouble in convincing members of the community to play in-person tournaments, once it becomes safe to do so again."

Any additional information or questions about Buzzword and the quiz bowl community can be found at NAQT.com.


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