Coach Marti Barmore said Wednesday that her UC Irvine team will be tough to beat again this year, with three of four starters returning from the squad that won the regionals in 1986.
They'd be playing the hapless faculty team in an exhibition match later that day, a traditional rivalry that had become a pitiful rout in recent years.
Barmore was brimming with confidence. Does the faculty have a chance? "No, not at all," she said. "We're offering them a 100-point handicap, but I don't think they'll take it. They should. Last year's score was 235 to 5."
This was College Bowl competition, "the varsity sport of the mind," a carbon copy of the popular '60s TV series that pitted teams of students from various colleges in a quiz game of academic trivia. One would think the faculty would have the edge of experience.
But victory goes not to the smart, but to the smart-and-quick, Coach Barmore said. Not only do you need a vast store of knowledge, but a quick trigger finger. You must be first to push the button if you want to answer the question.
The faculty members come in cold, Barmore said, but her all-stars have two weeks of intense campus-wide tournament competition behind them. They're quick and mean and only once have allowed the faculty to win--that first match in 1982. "That was before I was coach," Barmore said.
Last year's slaughter was so bad that Barmore had trouble recruiting a faculty team, she said. Three of the four-member faculty squad consented to return, "but I tried 16 faculty members who turned me down" for the fourth position, Barmore said. Then she found Dr. Michael Scavio of the psychology department. "He's a visiting professor, and he doesn't know the history of the competition," she said, giggling evilly.
"They didn't tell me that," Scavio said as he waited to take his place on the rostrum. He also was elected captain before they told him.
Dr. Mark Finkelstein of the math department, one of the faculty veterans, said the whole affair makes him feel old. "Our excuse is, they train, we come in at the last minute. We don't have a coach--maybe that's our excuse. Interview us after the game, and we'll have our official excuse."
The team from the campus radio station, KUCI, handily defeated the campus junior Kiwanis Club, called Circle K, 255 to 175, thus winning the campus championship. Many of their members were also on last year's all-star squad that would crush the faculty and move on to official regional competition.
The faculty members, who had let slip a few gasps during the previous match's display of knowledge, made their way to the rostrum. "We'll need all the help we can get," said captain Scavio under his breath.
The whistle blew, the time clock started and the first seven-minute half began.
The student all-stars, as expected, leaped to a quick lead.
"Squirrels are rodents. For 10 points, what order includes bush babies, lemurs and . . . (buzz) Mark?"
"Primates," said Mark Sugars, a graduate student in classics.
"Abraham Lincoln had four sons, but only one lived to adulthood. Born in 1843 . . . (buzz) Scavio?"
"Incorrect . . . (buzz) Richie?
"Robert Todd," said Rick Richie, a junior in political science and a rookie on the all-star squad.
"Correct." Ten more points for the students.
So far it was the students' game, but the faculty was staying within sight. Down 75 to 30, the faculty got a chance for some bonus points.
"The first seven books of the Old Testament are collectively called the Heptateuch. Of these books, Genesis is the first. For five points each, name the other six."
Dr. Virginia Trimble of the physics department counted them off quickly and confidently: "Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy," then paused. "Sorry, I'm Jewish," she said. "That's as far as I go." (The other two are Joshua and Judges.)
The standing-room-only crowd of 51 laughed, but at the end of the half, the students were ahead by only 125 to 90, and Coach Barmore appeared worried. She huddled with her team and urged them on. "You've given them enough points. Now get going," she said.
Richard Kolostian, a sophomore new to the squad, replaced Sugars in the lineup.
The faculty came out in the second half and took command of the game.
"The fundamental law of the universe is that without an input of energy, order must decrease. For 10 points, what word . . . (buzz) Trimble?"
"Entropy," said Trimble, correctly.
"If you multiply a certain number by nine and add seven, you get the number of keys on a piano . . . (buzz) Finkelstein?"
"Eighty-eight," said Finkelstein, who then won a disputed call that 88 was incorrect.
The faculty moved into the lead, 140 to 125, and the crowd gave first a satisfied sigh that grew to applause and loud cheers.
The faculty, spurred on by the enthusiasm, lengthened their lead, 170 to 125, but the magic began to dissolve. Questions on the Rolling Stones, Thomas Robert Malthus and caffeine sent them reeling.
Tied at 200 with 45 seconds to go, the game began to slip from their hands. Student captain Tom Grant, a graduate student in politics and society, correctly identified Tennessee Williams as the author of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and cleaned up on the bonus questions.
It was 230 to 200 and seconds to go, and the faculty had to be the first to the buzzer or pack it up until next year.
The moderator toed the lectern and delivered:
"Bismarck said that the great questions of the day were not to be decided by speeches and majority resolutions. For 10 points, in his own words, how were they to be decided?" (Buzz.) It was Grant, the student captain, who was first to the buzzer. He could answer correctly or stall for the victory, but he did neither. "By battle," he said. Wrong.
Scavio lunged at his buzzer and said "By . . . " but the timer sounded. Under the rules, he was allowed to finish his potentially game-winning answer.
"By actions, " he said. Wrong. "By blood and iron," said the moderator.
Final score: Students 230, Faculty 200.
But it was the faculty members who beamed the smiles of moral victory.
"We were not covered in shame," said Finkelstein as he descended from the rostrum. "No further excuses necessary."
The shaken UCI student all-stars will travel to Cal State Long Beach on Feb. 21 to compete in the western regional College Bowl tournament against teams from California, Nevada and Hawaii.