CC Academic Team: 1985-2004
by Mr. Howard Weinberg
The CC academic team owes its creation to a five-minute conversation in the fall of 1985. Frank Garlicki, department head and debate team coach, brought me a couple of invitations to local quiz tournaments that had come to the school. Feeling that CC could use additional interscholastic academic competition, he suggested that I give this activity a try. Deciding that it might be a pleasant diversion, I recruited a team and a few weeks later we began competition in a blaze of anonymity. In my wildest imagination, I could never have forseen that I had just begun a nineteen-year undertaking that would eventually see my teams win nine state and two national championships.
In the 1986 season we quickly learned that Michigan had many well established programs with far more experienced coaches. Encouraged particularly by Fr. Elmer and Fr. Paramo, we finally broke into the winner’s circle in 1987. Entering as an underdog, the team of John Buckley ’88, Mike Chiang ’87, Mike Smigielski ’88, Erik Sunday ’89, and Stan Abraham ’88 defeated Haslett High School in the finals to win a regional tournament at Alma College. It was to be the first of 110 tournament championships won during my tenure as coach.
1988 saw the inaugural state championship tournament. CC was invited to participate in the two-day competition held in Port Huron. With Matt Hepburn ’88 replacing Mike Chiang who had graduated, CC went unbeaten in the competition, defeating Sterling Heights High School in a championship game televised by PBS. It had taken three year. However, with a state title in hand, CC was firmly ensconced as one of Michigan’s elite teams.
In 1991 CC burst upon the national scene. Warming up by capturing our third state title in four years, the team of Ati Tslerics ’91, Jason Blankenship ’91, Mark Stock ’91, and Matt Morrison ’92 headed to Rice University for the national competition carried by the Discovery Channel. Their performance in the tournament was eye opening. Including victories over the national champions of the two previous years, the team was so dominant in round after round of the multi-day tournament that its games were rescheduled for evening hours when other coaches and players were free to watch CC play. Indeed, despite an eventual hiccup in the semifinals, veteran tournament director, Chip Beall, described CC as “the best team I have ever seen.” Clearly in the world of academic competition the reputation of CC’s teams would no longer be restricted to Michigan.
The decade of the 90s was one of constructive growth for the sport. Nationally there was an exponential increase in the number of teams. At the same time, the original factual questions used in competition were replaced by more sophisticated, pyramidal items which required that players use deductive reasoning to arrive at the correct answer. Simultaneously, the CC program grew in size and complexity. The schedule was annually lengthened, junior varsity and frosh divisions were added, an awards banquet was instituted and, with Fr. Elmer’s support, a tournament for eighth grade students was begun as a recruiting tool for the school. Most important, at various times, Linda Welborn, Sue Leninger, Chris Sroka ’93 and Ati Tslerics ’91 joined the program to provide indispensable help in dealing with the expanding coaching and administrative tasks. The varsity team, meanwhile, continued to be very competitive winning many tournaments including two additional state titles. With all of this, however, one goal remained beyond our grasp.
As the century was drawing to a close so was CC’s long quest for a national championship. After winning our sixth state title, the team of Jesse Norman ’99, Corey Mason ’99, Mark Walkuski ’99, Vince Crafton ’99, and Paul Schultz ’00 was ready for national competition at the University of Oklahoma. In venues reduced by full blast air conditioning to the temperature of Belle Isle in January, the team spent two days brushing aside powerhouse teams as though they were a minor annoyance. The decisive game was a 410-210 CC victory over perennial contender Walton High School, Marietta, Georgia. After fourteen years of trying, the last hurdle had been cleared.
The 2001 and 2002 teams set out to duplicate the accomplishment of 1999. The 2001 team of Josh Crawford ’01, Chris Hammer ’01, Jeff Shattock ’01, John Schultz ’02, Joe Galea ’02, and Jason Gehan ’01 won states and our second national championship. This time the victory was sealed by a 410-245 score over Detroit Country Day at the University of Michigan. The 2002 team won our eighth state championship. In the national tournament at George Washington University, the squad of Joe Galea ’02, Jerin Philip ’02, Frank Budde ’02, John Schultz ’02, Pete Troyan ’03, and Charles Drummond ’05 came as close to a hat trick of national titles as a 290-300 loss in the finals to Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, Maryland.
My last season as coach in 2004 proved to be on of the more interesting. The squad of Jason Winegarden ’04, John Zick ’04, Joel Knight ’06, Carl Thompson ’07, and David Budde ’05 had among them a minimum of experience playing at the varsity level. As the season unfolded, the lack of experience was evident. Our national rankings fell and the blogs were full of postings about how the program had fallen on hard times. As for us, we continued the well-established drill of study and practice. The improvement in the team was steady, but it was not until late in the season that we won an important tournament at the University of Michigan to qualify for the nationals to be held in Houston.
In Houston, their glee only thinly masked, opposing coaches were quick to reassure me that no program could produce a top team every year. As the tournament unfolded, however, CC defeated a succession of highly ranked teams to reach the semifinals. Indeed, in a tightly contested semifinal match, CC was denied another chance at a national championship game only when an otherwise correct but mispronounced answer was disallowed. On the flight home I found myself thinking about how much this maligned “little team that could” had written the almost perfect final chapter in the history of the first phase of the program. After all, no one had taken very seriously a team from CC at that regional tournament at Alma College all those years earlier.
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