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Waiting To Be Recognized: A History of Stanford College Bowl


The history of Stanford College Bowl has been traced back to 1978 -- the first year listed in current College Bowl Co., Inc. literature. Stanford stormed onto the scene with a national championship team featuring Jon Reider, last seen working at Stanford University, and Ted Gioia, who can be spotted on the dust jackets of his books about West Coast music. With nowhere to go but down, a dormant period followed before the revival of College Bowl for the 1984-85 season. It was purely coincidental (but a happy coincidence it was!) that this was also the year that ex-Princeton player/coach/question-writing-fanatic Jeff Demmin first drove down Palm Drive to work on a Stanford sheepskin. A primitive intramural tournament resulted in the selection of Demmin and the frighteningly deep but inexperienced Danny Kodmur to lead the team to its first regional tournament in years. The return of Stanford to intercollegiate play was the talk of the tournament, and a third place finish from the raw team was noted with interest by followers of the game. Demmin retired his buzzer after this tournament because of permanent synapse damage suffered sometime between a buzz and an answer during the last match.


The rest of the mid-80s saw an increasingly popular intramural tournament and the emergence of some outstanding players. Jeff Bandman, a law school student, led his teams to a number of on-campus victories with his impressive all-around skills. One particularly exciting tournament featured a championship-winning buzz in sudden death; Bandman knew the creator of the Garfield comic strip faster than anyone else. These teams also had success at regional tournaments, although these were marred by controversy. The argumentative nature of those teams earned a reputation for Stanford that still exists among opponents today. College Bowl also contributed to the difficulties with some question problems at tournaments, including recycling intramural packets for regional tournaments. This left one Stanford regional championship in dispute, and Stanford's resistance to replaying some matches added to the reputation. A bright point of this era was the first appearance of John Overdeck, a player whose speed and confidence turned his name into a verb. "Overdecking" came to refer to the practice of buzzing in on tossups much earlier than anyone had previously thought reasonable, earning him ample time on both the highlight film and the blooper reel. The raw talent was unprecedented, but the question was whether he would mold that into solid playing skills, or end up being just another too-quick thumb. Time would tell. Another key player to emerge during this era was the balanced, steady, and jovial Rivers Lelong, a business school student. His whereabouts are currently unknown.


Stanford College Bowl blossomed in the late 1980s when such figures as Douglas Bone, Bard Cosman, and David Frazee arrived on the scene. Graduate student Bone and Cosman of the medical school added years of undergraduate experience, and Frazee brought a dedication to College Bowl unmatched before or since. Bone and Cosman frequently joined forces on intramural teams as the "Huddled Mass Yearning to Be Free" -- no geography question was safe when they teamed -- while Frazee formed the perpetually contending "Nucleotides" with future varsity players Gordon Dow and David Wang. The Huddled Mass/Nucleotide rivalry continued for years while the players honed their skills. Bone became known for his knowledge of current events (which became a trait of all Stanford teams to follow), history, science, geography, baseball, and numerous other areas that are key to College Bowl success. Bone also brought a newfound insistence on sound preparation techniques and game-playing skills, exactly what Stanford needed to continue its ascent to the top. He had "captain" written all over him. Cosman looked like he was the relatively common type who specialized in a few obscure areas -- he came up with answers like "carbonaceous chondrite" without breaking a sweat and was a world authority on Antarctica -- but he actually provided a combination of breadth plus depth in key areas that would eventually earn him the high score in a National All-Star match. Cosman also set a fine example and began repairing Stanford's reputation among other players with his sportsmanship and ability to keep the game in perspective. (Still, he didn't mind using the particularly effective psychological tactic of stating during player introductions that his major was "surgery;" he was doing post-M.D. studies. The "undeclared sophomores" on other teams tended to adjust their expectations of victory after hearing that.) Frazee, like Bone, was a current events expert, and he took this skill to new heights by studying the New York Times, a favorite source for College Bowl question writers. He also was a College Bowl evangelist, carrying the message all over campus in an effort the get as many people involved as possible. The huge campus tournaments that resulted allowed Stanford to learn how to do tournaments better than any other school in the country. The arrival of Chris Golde at the education school had an enormous impact on this as well. Her experience in both volunteer and professional capacities running College Bowl activities was immediately put to use at Stanford. Golde's emphasis on keeping College Bowl fun -- a radical new concept at a place known for obsessing about minutia -- also helped carry Stanford's programs to new heights. Her organizational skills, however, did not eclipse the playing skills that made her a coveted teammate at intramural and open tournaments.

Golden Era

The high point -- so far -- for Stanford came in the early 90s with a number of dominating regional championships and excellent national tournament showings. In 1991, Doug Bone captained Bard Cosman, Gordon Dow, David Wang, and the quiet but dangerous Steve Irish to a solid showing at the National Championship Tournament. The retirement of Dr. Cosman had Cardinal fans worried for the following season, but the return of Frazee from a European hiatus and Overdeck from an unconfirmed barnstorming career raised their hopes. What no one could anticipate was the arrival of freshman Gerard Magliocca. When he buzzed in correctly with "Wealth of Nations" after the lead-in "Written in 1776 ..." at an on-campus tournament, it was clear that there was a new force to be reckoned with. A series of grueling try-outs resulted in the selection of Steve Lin as the alternate, over a field of entrants who would have been certain varsity starters at virtually any other school. The regular attendance of these and other stalwarts at practices was a key factor in the varsity success to follow. The varsity squad typically lost more matches at each week's practice than in entire intercollegiate tournaments. Bone, Frazee, Overdeck, Magliocca, and Lin went on to take second place at the National Championship tournament, with Overdeck following in Cosman's footsteps as an All-Star selection. The result for the year was also a fitting send-off for Captain Bone, who used his last year of eligibility while permanently instilling the precepts of sound playing in his teammates. For the 1992-93 season, the departure of Bone and Overdeck left room for up-and-comers, and intramural veteran Bill Kirby, Kyle Graham, and Dan Green contributed to the varsity squad. The team won an exciting regional tournament at which such teams as UC Davis, Cal State LA, Claremont McKenna, and Pomona thought it was their turn, but in the end Stanford prevailed. Another National Championship Tournament waited, and another first division showing resulted. The fact that anything short of a National Championship was a disappointment to some shows the heightening of expectations in the Stanford program.

During this phase, the Stanford tournament machine was in full force as well. Apart from the official intramural, regional, and national tournaments, Stanford was also running the Cardinal Classic (the premier West Coast invitational inaugurated in 1991), the Summer "Open" tournament in which anyone could play, the Individual Tournament on Memorial Day Weekend, and the "Big Buzz" grudge match against UC Berkeley during Big Game week. The Open Tournament has been particularly popular because all of the alumni, retirees, friends, and other hangers-on can play. (Also, the Huddled Mass had yet another opportunity to beat the Nucleotides.) This has resulted in some of the most competitive games anywhere in the nation. The Individual Tournament also lets anyone play, and the "naked" feeling of playing without teammates provides a thrill unmatched by any other competition. The past and current stars from all over the state, including "Jeopardy!" Quarter-Finalist Ron Trigueiro of Fresno, have traveled to the event.

Present and Future

The conventional wisdom was that the 1994-95 season would mark the end of Stanford's dominance of the region, with the incredible talent at Berkeley finally ready to take over from a Stanford program that was experiencing significant turnover. Their plans were foiled, though, when the world-class skill of Magliocca plus some very promising new talent kept the Cardinal juggernaut on track with yet another regional championship. This was followed by an impressive sixth place finish at the National Championship Tournament, which included a 5-point loss to the undefeated champions from Harvard. Researchers have been unable to find a four-year run that matches Magliocca's Stanford career. The Cardinal performance added to the increasing heap of evidence that Stanford does College Bowl the right way, and it is a very positive sign that there will not need to be any "rebuilding year" in Stanford's near future.

Jeff Demmin
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