Fifty years ago, Marcia Berges Hodges ’61, Jerry Levy ’63, James Zurer ’63, Joseph Rishel ’62 and alternate Wayne Atwell ’61 sat in anticipation as the G.E. College Bowl clock wound down. Leading the scoreboard, the Hobart and William Smith students eagerly awaited the response of Baylor University students as they attempted to gain a last minute advantage on the nationally-televised quiz game show. Only moments later, the HWS College Bowl Team became national champions.
Having bested the likes of Beloit College, Wesleyan University, Carnegie Mellon University and Louisiana State University, the team returned to Geneva with the College Bowl trophy and $9,000 in scholarship funds from General Electric.
In honor of this momentous achievement, the Colleges celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Jan. 21, 1961 victory throughout the weekend of 2011 Homecoming and Family Weekend.
“What an incredible moment in the history of the Colleges,” remarked President Mark D. Gearan during a dinner held in the contestants’ honor. “I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the impact these young people had on the Colleges. As a result of their wins, this team brought much-deserved recognition to the Colleges’ academic programs and introduced a new generation of high-achieving students to HWS.”
The College Bowl alums were also acknowledged during half time of the Hobart Homecoming football game against Merchant Marine on Boswell Field.
The group recalled the palpable anticipation on campus five decades ago when the call for College Bowl competitors was announced. Following a long written test and intense practice rounds, the team was chosen for competition.
Each member of the selected team was eager to have his or her chance to represent the Colleges in the competition. Countless study sessions and rigorous training routines filled the lives of the College Bowl contestants. The team trained intensely, going over practice sheets, reading handouts, reviewing hundreds upon hundreds of flash cards and playing endless rounds of the intellectual guessing game “Botticelli.”
“Our professors were so involved in the game,” says Atwell. “They were truly interested, and they were willing to sit down and work with us.”
“The faculty worked so hard, training us and providing their support. It was a really big deal here,” says Levy. “This was a big time for quiz shows. The NFL wasn’t nearly as big as it is today, and the College Bowl aired at 5:30 on Sundays, leading into immensely popular Sunday night television.”
Each member brought with them a specialty; Berges was the literature and Biblical expert, while Rishel was the authority on art and music. Levy and Zurer covered a broad spectrum of knowledge from history to physics.
Zurer recalls that the first round of competition was close to New Years. “We made sure to study information related to the New Year,” recalls Jim, who said that the work paid off when Marcia was able to correctly answer a question related to the translation of the term ‘New Year’ in another language.
Zurer also notes that January 1961 was historical for marking the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. “I had to really review his inaugural speech,” explains Zurer. Sure enough, Zurer was questioned about the address.
Their perseverance paid off when the HWS College Bowl Team retired undefeated, after a fifth and final win against Baylor University, 245 to 140. The College Bowl victors returned to a campus amid much fanfare. “It’s hard to understand how excited everyone was,” says Zurer, who says that following the victory, they were asked to speak at club meetings and numerous events. “We came back from New York City late, and there was a huge crowd there to greet us.”
Not only were the Colleges full of well-deserved pride, but the town of Geneva was eager to celebrate the bright youth it had helped to nurture. February 2 was named Hobart and William Smith Day and a parade was thrown in their honor. Each of the contestants was also bestowed a key to the city during a celebratory banquet at Belhurst Castle.
“There was also a lot of interest when I went back home; people were really curious about my school. Before the College Bowl, I would jokingly tell people I went to Hobart Where’s That College,” says Levy. “After the Bowl, there was more awareness about the Colleges – it really elevated the school in people’s opinions.”
In fact, the group notes that after the competition, enrollment at the Colleges went up, and donations from proud alums began to pour in. Then Colleges President Louis Hirshson even received a rather surprising anonymous donation on his doorstep – a soapbox filled with nearly $1,300 in cash for the purpose of funding scholarships.
For the teammates, who have kept in touch since the Bowl, their success was rooted in a love of knowledge that was nurtured at Hobart and William Smith. “I’ve always been interested in learning as much as I can,” says Zurer. “I read the encyclopedia as a kid!”
Levy and Atwell echoed Zurer’s sentiments, citing their constant search to know more as their impetus for competing. “We were representing the Colleges and what our professors were teaching,” says Berges. “But at the time we didn’t think about that – we were just having a good time!”
The work of these individuals was acknowledged by current students as well. During the Friday evening College Bowl dinner, Wendi Bacon ’12 and Jarrid Blades ’13 expressed their gratitude for the paths that the competitors paved for the growth of HWS and the thirst for knowledge they inspired in their classmates and future generations of students.
“Thank you for inspiring these Colleges with your dedication, intelligence and legacy,” remarked Bacon, who has received numerous academic accolades including the esteemed Blackwell Medical Scholarship and the Salisbury Summer Internship. “You’ve made Hobart and William Smith the perfect place for students like me to shine.”
Blades acknowledged the importance of the tone that the College Bowl winners helped to set on campus, changing the educational environment for the better. “From one generation to another, thank you for making Hobart and William Smith the kind of place where I can thrive,” said Blades.
In photo above College Bowl winners gather with students Jarrid Blades ’12 and Wendi Bacon ’12 following dinner.