Montana high school history buffs can thank David Madden’s 19-day winning streak on the game show “Jeopardy!” nine years ago for the chance to show off their own knowledge Saturday at Skyview High School.
Madden, 32, is founder and executive director of the National History Bee and Bowl, an individual and team competition with about 50,000 participants in more than 200 places around the country and overseas, too. About 60 students competed all day Saturday in the state championship held in Skyview’s theater.
“It’s so much fun sharing your knowledge,” said Tyler Starkweather, a senior and captain of the Skyview team. “You make a lot of friends — even with members of competing teams.”
Madden, a graduate of Princeton University, founded the organization four years ago on his more than $400,000 in winnings on America’s most famous quiz show. He flew out this weekend to participate in the Montana state championship, which included teams from Central, Senior, Skyview, Dawson County and Big Horn, Wyo. Schools outside the state are also eligible to compete, Madden said.
Also an art historian and genealogist, Madden said he “writes none of the questions” for the history competition but “edits everything.” College students who have competed during their high school years write most of the questions, for which they are paid.
The quality of play has improved, he said, since he competed four years in quiz bowl at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey in the late 1990s. “These kids are better than ever,” he said. Some of the best competitions are in Kentucky, where the governor implemented a statewide academic quiz competition in the 1980s.
“If you’re going to read a newspaper or watch a news report, good general knowledge of history is a huge benefit,” he said. “Today you’ll hear questions about ancient history as well as what happened a couple years ago.”
Madden’s wife, Nolwenn Léon Madden, is director of the organization’s international operations. Madden said he enjoys traveling to as many competitions as he can, and his passport supports that assertion. After recently attending competitions in Sri Lanka and Dubai, he has upcoming appointments in Shanghai and Beijing.
Rich McFate, who advises academic teams at Skyview and fielded two varsity and three junior varsity teams for Saturday’s competition, said he’s watched team members “get to know each other in a more intellectual way” as they’ve prepared for the event. “A lot of students will tell you it’s their favorite competition of the year.”
Andrew Schuster, a senior at Big Horn High School in Wyoming, won the varsity bee. “I’ve spent a lot of time reading history books and looking at maps,” he said moments after his victory. He attributed his winning performance to “the ability to think fast.”
Sarah Khan, a senior at Central, said an Advanced Placement class she’s taking in European history makes her the go-to person on her squad for all European questions. “I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and I think this will prepare us well for college,” said Khan, who plans to study pre-med at Montana State University Billings following graduation.
Big Horn took the varsity title Saturday, defeating Skyview’s A team in the finals. The varsity semifinalists were Dawson County’s A team and Central.
The Skyview D team took the junior varsity title, turning back Senior’s B team. The semifinalists were Skyview’s C and E teams. Team and individual winners qualify for the national championships in April, which will be held in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va.