Oct 15

Mind Games

The Harvard Crimson – October 15, 2008

When the Harvard Quiz Bowl team was winning national championships in the mid-1990s, its leader, an English graduate student named Jeffrey G. Johnson, was the stuff of legends. It was rumored that he had read 10,000 books, and that watching him take in a volume was like witnessing somebody leaf through a magazine.

(l to r) Adam N. Hallowell, John D. Lesieutre, Meryl Federman and Kyle Haddad-Fonda

By contrast, Harvard’s current up-and-coming star, a skinny 6 foot 4 inch freshman called Dallas R. Simons, is calibrated to deflect such self-aggrandizing talk. The former captain of a Martin Luther King High School team that finished second in the nation his junior year, the soft-spoken Nashville native consistently ducks self-promotion. (…)

I first witnessed the Harvard team at practice in mid-September, in a small classroom above Annenberg. The buzz of eager freshmen going about their dinner resonates on the stairs as I make my way up.

Inside, around a long rectangular table, sit several Quiz Bowl luminaries: Kyle Haddad-Fonda ’09, the former president of the club; Meryl Federman ’11, who last summer won $75,000 on Jeopardy!; and Adam N. Hallowell ’09 and John D. Lesieutre ’09, both of whom were on the Harvard team that won a national championship last spring. The fourth member of that team, Julia Schlozman ’09 is absent.

The current standing of the Harvard team-ranked anywhere between fourth and tenth in the nation-owes much to the efforts of Haddad-Fonda, who arrived in Cambridge representing one-third of possibly the greatest recruiting class any college has ever had in Quiz Bowl (the Class of 2009 included the captains of the top three high school teams in the nation). By his sophomore year, Haddad-Fonda had taken the reins and arranged for the initial staging of the Harvard Fall Tournament, a high school event that last year drew 32 teams and countless potential recruits.

The club’s current president, Andrew Watkins ’11, has brought to Harvard an even more bullish style. Where the enterprising Haddad-Fonda is soft-spoken and retiring, Watkins is forceful and assertive. Rarely sleeping more than three hours a night and regularly taking runs that stretch as far as seven or eight miles, the new president has channeled his energy into an ambitious plan to supplement the Harvard Fall Tournament with two others this year. But this same energy also tends to manifest itself in less desirable ways.

“Andy, I would say, plays differently than I do,” Haddad-Fonda says. “He takes it very seriously, he beats himself up physically while he plays, and he gets quite angry when things don’t go well. That works for him most of the time. That’s not how I play.” (…)

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