Will Taite Knows it All
Most know-it-alls are arrogant. Will Taite, a senior biology major, is a refreshing exception to the rule. Last year, Will was the top individual scorer in the nation at the Honda Campus All Star Challenge National Championship Tournament, a Jeopardy style quiz bowl competition for HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Will’s performance helped his team to finish 6th place out of 48 teams—the highest Stillman has ever ranked at the National Championship Tournament (NCT). In April, when the team heads to Los Angeles for the 2013 NCT, he hopes for another big win.
Despite his impressive display of knowledge about every conceivable topic, from literature and history to science, mathematics and pop culture, Will remains humble. He is quick to give credit to those who helped him along the way, and even quicker to help his teammates prepare for their much anticipated return to L.A. Will, who serves as team captain, says, “I’ve been in the program for four years, and I’ve learned so much from past players and people I’ve met from other teams. Dale Bronson taught me strategy, and Dr. (Thomas) Jennings coached me very well on how to memorize information and pick categories. Last year, I knew I did well at nationals. I knew I would be a top scorer, but I didn’t expect to be the top scorer. When they began calling the top players to come to the stage, naming them from lowest to highest, they started naming players I know from other colleges—players who score super fast. Then they called my name as the top scorer. I was so excited.”
“I come from Monroeville, Alabama, a very rural area,” Will says, as though to stress how extremely honored he was by the attention he received at the high profile, nationally televised NCT. “Monroeville is very secluded, with dirt roads. One of the only things it’s known for is being the birthplace of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.”
People often ask Will how he memorizes so much material so well. “My family values education,” he says. “My mother was working on her masters when I was very small and she would let me see her books. She taught me a lot of obscure medical terminology because I’ve always enjoyed science. Obscure facts are important in quiz bowls. Everyone knows about Rosa Parks, but what about Paul Robeson?”
“My mother liked to read to me when I was young and she taught me to ask questions anytime there was something that I didn’t know or understand. Many of my aunts and uncles went to graduate school. One aunt was a chemistry teacher, and there are many lawyers in the family. My mother has always been studious and she brings games like Trivial Pursuit to family gatherings. I’ve always loved spelling bees. I’ve always watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which helps some with quiz bowls. I’ve also always loved to play video games, which help a lot because I’ve learned many facts about Japan from video games. And games like Pac-Man help with using the buzzer.”
In first grade, Will memorized all of the states and capitals and was able to recite them alphabetically. He has always enjoyed reading atlases, dictionaries and encyclopedias and watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He admits that even his mother says he has a “natural affinity” for trivia games. However, he insists that, in quiz bowls, hard work and strategy are as important as intelligence.
“In my first year, I was surprised to see how quickly the top players at Stillman and other schools answered questions. Some players were so fast that I couldn’t get out my answers in time. At first I was taken aback by how quick and aggressive they were about scoring, but after a while I began to develop confidence. I started getting faster and faster,” says Will, who believes that taking challenging courses like biochemistry and microbiology helped him to improve his scores.
It would be impossible to take classes in every subject covered by quiz bowl so, several years ago, Will began compiling study booklets. “A lot of schools that have won championships do this, so I figured I would do it too,” he says. “I also created dozens of on-line study guides for myself and the team, and I use flash cards, Wiki sites, and the New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge by William Safire.” The hefty Guide has 1,320 pages.
Will is clearly not the type to be content with yesterday’s victories. “I have to work hard. You can never underestimate the competition. There is always pressure,” he admits. “But what I love about Honda is that it’s not just for smart kids. You meet all sorts of interesting people at competitions. Many older students compete. I’ve met players who are twice my age, and I met one woman who has three children. I still talk on Facebook with people I’ve met at competitions. I talk with people who live all over the country. I like meeting people in the program as much as I like the competition.”
“In the finals, there are cameras and bright lights, and you have the best of the best competing against each other. There is a lot of pressure. I can remember knowing the answer but saying something else because of the pressure. This will be my third and final NCT. This year is a little bitter sweet because it’s my last year of Honda. I’ve come so far. In my first year, I was so shy and quiet when giving my answers. Now I’m much more outgoing. Dr. Jennings taught me to always answer and that, if you go with your gut, you’re more likely to be right. There is nothing worse than missing a question that you knew the answer to.”
After graduation, Will plans to obtain an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Although his Honda days are almost over, he beams when he exclaims that there are quiz bowls in graduate school too.
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