For a Bible quizzer, the end-of-season invitational tournament is like the World Series of Quiz, says coordinator Fred Hertzler of Lancaster, Pa.
He and his wife, Chris, are helping to plan and organize the 40th annual Mennonite Bible Quiz invitational at Lancaster Mennonite School March 21-23.
The Hertzlers have been involved with the Scripture memorization competition for junior high and high schoolers for 20 years. In the last few years, interest has grown steadily, especially in their area.
“It seems to be the thing to do,” Fred Hertzler said. About 350 student quizzers are expected to demonstrate their memorization of Exodus at the invitational. That’s 77 teams — 48 of them from the Lancaster area.
In 1974, when Don Yoder of Harrisonburg, Va., first had the idea for an invitational, there were 12 teams.
He said it was an effort to get more youth involved in the annual Ohio Conference meeting. At the time he was the conference youth minister.
“By the third year it had outgrown the facilities,” Yoder said. “So it moved from being a conference-based event to having a life of its own.”
Teams now quiz in Virginia and Pennsylvania, in addition to Ohio. The tournament rotates between northwest Ohio, central Ohio and Pennsylvania. Last year it was hosted in Pettisville, Ohio, where Lydia Nofziger is a coach.
She said new elements were added to the event, like more group worship events and a game night.
One thing that hasn’t changed much in 40 years is the game. Yoder hasn’t been directly involved since 1985, but he happened to be in Lancaster when a tournament was going on a few years ago. He stopped by.
“It felt almost the same as I remembered,” he said. “Sometimes even younger folks like to have things the same.”
Two four-member quiz teams sit behind side-by-side tables with name plates and microphones in front of them. They face the quiz master and a team of judges. Each quizzer has a buzzer. Teams get points for each correct answer.
At invitationals, teams play a double-elimination tournament.
A loss sends a team to the Lazarus bracket, where it can “come back from the dead,” according to Lydia Nofziger.
Quizzers, like her 16-year-old sister Hope Nofziger, anticipate the invitational each year as a time to be with friends — and meet new ones.
“Our teams have spent a lot of time together outside of the fun they have at quiz practice and meets, so they’re looking forward to taking another trip together,” Lydia Nofziger said. She and another sister, Carrie Nofziger, coach two teams from House Church, the congregation their family attends.
Yoder said there’s been controversy now and then. A new, more subjective question was added for a while but eventually got taken out. Organizers switched translations in the 1980s, which upset some people.
“I remember having long conversations with persons who were really concerned that this wasn’t good,” Yoder said.
Rote memorization, some said, isn’t Bible study.
“I would say, ‘Look, where else can you get 150 to 350 high schoolers gathered around the common element of Scripture, learning to know each other in a positive way?’ ” Yoder said. “If you don’t want to call it Bible study, I have no problem with that.”
Like many of the hundreds of quizzing volunteers over the years, the Hertzlers and Yoder have been around long enough to see all the cycles of quizzing. Quizzers, once graduated, begin to help coach, and then some move on to reading questions or judging answers. Others help coordinate schedules and matches or provide food and supplies.
Lydia Nofziger takes time on weekends to drive from school at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., to Ohio to coach. Her mother is a quiz master, and her father schedules meets and makes brackets. All of her six siblings have participated.
The Hertzlers have a similar story. Fred was a quizzer. All four of their children quizzed.
“It was a positive role model for them,” he said. But their youngest is a junior in high school, and they think other things will start to take precedence.
“It will always have a special place in our hearts,” he said.
They see the benefit it has for others too. High schoolers even seem to think it’s fun.
“The first objective is having them studying God’s word,” Fred Hertzler said. “We try to make it fun and exciting, and we throw competition in there.”
He said teams in Lancaster are motivated for differing reasons: the social atmosphere, the competition or because they’re good at memorization.
“There’s a segment of kids out there that are more studious,” he said. “So it gives them an avenue to excel.”
The Hertzlers’ best memories came from watching high schoolers gain confidence.
“They’re shy, timid, and you see them develop and mature, spiritually, emotionally and in their presence in front of people,” Fred Hertzler said.
At 71, Yoder has watched young quizzers grow into jobs and leadership positions.
He’s heard many times that verses they memorized for competition come to them at strange times.
“I don’t call them strange,” he said. “I call that the work of the Holy Spirit.”