Perham Yellowjackets 'buzz' in their answers in successful Knowledge Bowl season

The smart students behind Perham's Knowledge Bowl are making a splash and hope to go to state this year.

Knowledge Bowl students sit and wait for a question to be asked, ready to buzz in their answers.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

PERHAM — Students involved with Knowledge Bowl acquire and store away more information in their brains than even the average adult, all for a good time. Students sit in teams of up to five people, their hands over buzzers, waiting to answer a question and earn a point, much like in trivia game shows. Whoever earns the most points, wins, and participating Perham students have been earning plenty of wins in the 2022-23 Knowledge Bowl season.

"It gives the kids an opportunity who maybe aren't interested in basketball or some of the other opportunities," said teacher Shawn Stafki, one of the Perham Knowledge Bowl coaches. "These kids, you know, the ones who are doing it — let's face it — they're really smart kiddos, and they need something to do. And this is an excellent opportunity … I'm just glad that the school provides (academic opportunities) for them because it's really important for kids who aren't interested in the athletic world."

Shawn Stafki
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Stafki has been involved with the Knowledge Bowl program since it was "resurrected" a bit under 10 years ago. Though the program existed prior to his involvement, it was cut due to budget constraints. However, the program is back up and running now. In fact, Stafki has seen it grow alongside the kids since it came back. As the program helps kids get more knowledgeable, the more the program succeeds.

Stafki shared that, right before the pandemic, two years in a row, they were a single point and then a half point away from going to compete at the state level. During the peak of the pandemic, a lot of the experienced students graduated. While new students did eventually join, they were still getting their feet under them the past few years. However, these kids are older now, and they're experienced. And they've been making a splash this season.

So far this season, student Jackson Brown shared that his teams have earned third and first place. Another student, Clara Tangen, said that one of her teams won third place.


"It's hard to go to state," Stafki said. "We've not managed it since I've been here, but I'm hoping this is our year. But we'll see."

Perham students started training in October, even though their first competition wasn't until the end of December. So far, they've had two competitions, and their next will be on Feb. 14.

At each competition, the number of schools competing could range from six to anywhere around 20 or 30. Each school brings a number of teams to the meet. Teams compete against each other in a round of 45 questions, racing to "buzz" in their answers first. Whoever earns the most points from answering questions correctly is declared the winner. Students competing quickly learn to buzz in their answers before the question is even finished being asked.

"As a reader, you almost never read the full question," Stafki explained. "99 times out of 100, you leave anywhere from five to 15 words off. You don't even get to the end. We're training them to do that. We're training them to buzz in fast and to beat the other teams because we go up against a lot of other teams from other schools. Some of the really top-notch schools in Knowledge Bowl, they practice that skill. That's the skill they practice, and so that's what we do: buzz in, talk over the question, come to an answer."

Later this year Perham will take three teams to compete at the sub-region meet. The top six teams from this competition go on to regions. From there, the top two teams compete at state.

Perham High School seniors Clara Tangen (left) and Jackson Brown have been involved with Knowledge Bowl since they were in middle school.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Though competition is a large part of participating in Knowledge Bowl, that's not the only thing kids get out of it. Of course, they learn a lot of useful information, from historical facts to mathematics to biology, but they're able to utilize those skills throughout the rest of their lives.

"A lot of the kids who have done (Knowledge Bowl), they've done some amazing stuff," Stafki shared. "A lot of them are in colleges right now, but the vast majority of them have been wildly successful beyond high school. So I think it's a good way for them to explore that it's okay to be smart. That's not always a positive thing in a lot of places, but here it's very positive and strongly encouraged."

Tangen and Brown, who are now both seniors at Perham High School, have been participating in Knowledge Bowl for about six years now. The two both expressed how much they enjoy the competition aspect of the activity, and the way they're able to challenge all of the knowledge and facts that they've learned throughout the years.


Brown shared that he was even able to learn something new outside of what he was learning in classes: how to convert numbers to different bases. The biggest thing Tangen has learned is that communication is key; it's taught her how to convey her thoughts and ideas to her teammates and students.

"For me, (Knowledge Bowl) has definitely encouraged me to learn new things, to be excited to learn new things," Tangen said. "Everything can be useful in the long run. It can be useful if you're doing trivia like this or if it's life skills."

Brown continued, "Anything you learn, no matter how impactful you think it might be, it will probably be useful at some point. You may not even notice it, but if it's in your head, it might help you out."

Stafki and the rest of the Perham-Dent Public School District are excited to see how far the Knowledge Bowl team goes this competition season. To stay updated on their season, check out the Perham Public Schools Facebook page .

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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