20 (or Higher?)

Now those were three strange days. For over fifty years, my alma mater college radio station, WWSP-90FM, has staged an on-air trivia contest every spring. Over time, the contest grew to became a major endeavor, once earning an outside declaration (admittedly arrived at with sketchy, indeterminate data) that it was the world’s largest of its kind, a designation that has been relentlessly touted ever since. Whether the superlative remains accurate, 90FM’s Trivia is undoubtedly impressive in its scope, usually involving the participation of around three hundred and fifty teams and thousands of participants. In the modest college town where it is staged, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, it is one of the biggest events of the year.

In 2020, of course, everything is different. Because the traditional staging of the contest relies on dozens of volunteers trooping into the station and teams gathering at homes, hotels, and other spots across town, Trivia was rethought. Rescheduled from April to October in the fruitless hopes that COVID-19 would be contained or at least minimized (here in Wisconsin, the situation is instead the worst it’s ever been), the structure was largely maintained, but the answer submission moved from phone lines to online submission and teams were actively encouraged to develop distanced, web-based means of collaborating. Officially, it wasn’t even a true Trivia weekend. The organizers maintain that the next edition of 90FM’s Trivia, the fifty-first, will happen in April 2021. Instead, it was dubbed an “Experiment in Trivia.”

I logged a lot of time in that college radio station helping to run the logistics of the contest, so I’m especially sympathetic to the different unique trials endured by the student leaders who followed me over the years. And this version of Trivia was full of trials I’m glad I never faced, from an on-air staff size diminished by a college life revamps that limits the ability of student organizations to recruit new members to extended breakdowns of technology created just for this new iteration of the contest. Across the board, the current student leadership handled the challenges with enviable levels of grace and good humor. I can extend that praise to their collective approach to previously unimaginable tumult they’ve faced all year.

As for my team, a slightly infamous crew known as the Cakers, we thrive on being together, and we clearly lost a step when interacting across screens rather than sitting shoulder to shoulder in a big room. We finished in twentieth place, our lowest finish in over ten years. Although, I need to put an asterisk on that placing. Reportedly, points from the contest’s final Music Question — a collection of eight snippets from popular songs that teams must identify — haven’t been added into the tally, a side effect of some of the technical difficulties that beset the contest throughout the weekend. As usual, we did very well on that question, correctly identifying all eight snippets, We may yet move up, though likely not more than a place or two, so there’s not much point in quibbling. I note the potential discrepancy only for accuracy.

Anyway, as proud as I am that our team sometimes manages to compete with the big hitters in this marathon of minutiae, our truest accomplishment can’t be measured with a score. In our own storied history, which now stretches over thirty years, we have built a rambunctious extended family that I can’t describe without lapsing into cheesy sentiment. So I’ll refrain from further explanation about what it meant to have our event that serves as a beacon for our clan, even if the event in question was presented in a slightly different form and we were all ensconced safely in the home bases that have been our habitats for most of this misbegotten year. For one weekend, we could be us again. I only hope everyone else who participated on our fellow teams received the gift of a similar sensation.

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