Getting their history on

Students of Klahowya Secondary School
Students of Klahowya Secondary School's History Bowl team practice a few round of questions last week after school. The school will host the state championships of the National History Bowl and Bee Saturday.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka

Some of them read a lot of books on their own time. Several of them often watch Jeopardy on TV. Most of them have taken every Advanced Placement history class offered at Klahowya Secondary School.

All of them enjoy testing their history knowledge by being on the school's History Bowl team.

"It's like Jeopardy, but on steroids," said Boyd Wolking, a senior on the team.

Klahowya will host the Washington State Championships of the National History Bowl and Bee Saturday, Feb. 18. One of the school's varsity teams has already qualified for the April national bowl competition in Washington, D.C. from winning the Central Washington History Bowl competition in January. From that competition, Wolking also qualified himself for the national history bee, an individual competition.

History Bowl is similar to Knowledge Bowl — in which most of the Klahowya students are participants to both teams — except History Bowl tests U.S. and world history knowledge while Knowledge Bowl tests math and science as well. Klahowya has a total of about 15 active students on the team including both varsity and junior varsity.

Wolking, who captained last year's varsity team that competed in nationals, said he enjoys the friendly competition that History Bowl produces. While he and his peers work together as a team to score points, they each are able to buzz in on their own and must answer a question individually without discussion with their teammates. Jeff Kreifels, a Klahowya history teacher who coaches the team, said in the competition, there is one out of four quarters where students have brief moments to discuss answers with one another.

While practicing last Tuesday in Kreifel's classroom after school, the students answered questions ranging from topics covering yellow fever to Annie Oakley and British kings to the Maori people of New Zealand.

Carly Whetsel, a senior, said she likes when she is able to recall a fact that she didn't think she would remember — or maybe even know.

"It's fun because you get to test what you remember from [classes] you've taken in the past," she said.

Whetsel has taken AP U.S. History and AP World History at Klahowya and Wolking has also taken those classes in addition to AP European History. He said the "euro" class isn't offered every year at the school but he was able to snag it.

Although the two students have gone through all the history classes at Klahowya — Wolking said he never has to study ahead of time for regular tests because he easily retains information — and are on the History Bowl team, they don't get made fun of by their peers, aside from playful joking, for being involved in "nerdy" activities.

"Nerdiness is encouraged at this school," said Wolking. Whetsel added that both students and teachers are supportive and it may have to do with the fact that the school isn't very strong in sports.

Kreifels said it's fun to see the students answer random history questions and to hear where they learned of it — aside from classes, it's from reading books, watching movies, from conversations or even from time spent surfing Wikipedia.

"Those things are in there rattling around in your brain and we want them to come out," Kreifels said to his students. Kreifels was recently awarded the Washington State Veterans of Foreign Wars Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year award.

Even though the questions in competitions can be from U.S. or world history, Kreifels said he tells his students to study U.S. presidents, vice presidents, first ladies and secretaries of states because those are "basic ones" that are bound to come up. The varsity and junior varsity do not do any studying together to prepare for competitions other than practice rounds of buzzing in answers to questions that Kreifels reads aloud. They practice together two or three times a month.

National History Bowl and Bee started in 2010 with just three states and expanded to other states including Washington last year, said Kreifels. Last year was therefore the first time Klahowya participated in the competitions. Because there is no minimum number of team members required for the competition, Kreifels said that students are able to show up Saturday and compete in the bowl if they desire.

Since Klahowya's team is not funded by the school, Kreifels said they do fundraisers such as running the concession stand at school basketball games, to raise money. Kreifels estimates the cost for a student to compete at nationals to be about $800 to $1,000 per person, including airfare. What isn't covered through fundraised money, students and parents will pay out of pocket.

Junior Alyson Kreifels, Jeff Kreifels' daughter who is also on the team, said while she likes history and testing her knowledge through History Bowl, it is something she does for fun and doesn't foresee a future involving history.

"I wouldn't want to major in it," she said. "I want to be a baker when I grow up."

Alyson Kreifels, Whetsel and Wolking are part of the varsity team that will compete in nationals in April along with senior Dane Ballou, senior Mitchell Flowers and junior Andrew Walters.

Not only are the students thirsty for knowledge, they like the challenge of testing it. "We're trivia geeks," Flowers said.


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