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The Old Capitol Bowl — Letting history students show what they know

In his book about what some call Mississippi’s “most distinguished building,” John Ray Skates describes the Old Capitol as reflecting the shifting fortunes of our state: “It was built in a fluid frontier society, battered by Civil War, rebuilt during Reconstruction, and almost abandoned in the early twentieth century.” Should Skates update that 1990 analogy, he might add a Katrina layer. The National Historic Landmark was completely renovated in her aftermath.

But if the Old Capitol’s walls could talk, they would have more to mention than shifting fortunes. Andrew Jackson once walked its halls. Our present constitution was adopted in its House Chambers. Eudora Welty’s body lay in state in its rotunda.

These days, the landmark-turned-museum echoes with visitors learning such facts through interactive displays, an orientation film, and the occasional re-enactment. For high school students, there’s an additional educational opportunity — the Old Capitol Quiz Bowl.

Begun in 2012, the annual event tests participants’ knowledge of Mississippi history, geography, politics, and more through fast-paced, bracket-based competition. Teams from across the state arrive at the museum with hopes of becoming the winner during the final 20-question round.

Old Capitol Museum Director Laura Miller says the quiz bowl supports their mission to educate the public about Mississippi: “This event is a fun way to do that, and it gets high school students to visit the building.”

Members of the Brookhaven Academy quiz bowl team provide proof that students do indeed find the event fun. They willingly come to before-school practice sessions for a solid two months, a commitment that evidently pays off. At the Oct. 5 Old Capitol Bowl, the school took third-place honors.

Instructor Denise Sbravati says she brings a team to the bowl every year because history is important. “It’s their state,” she acknowledges with a nod toward her students. “I believe they need to know it.”

Team member Jarrett Lea says he thrives on the competitive element: “I can name all the counties — all 82 — and the county seats. There’s 92 of them because ten counties have more than one.”

So what question eventually stumped the Cougars?

A hard one — the residency requirement for Mississippi’s gubernatorial candidates. “It’s five years,” Team Captain Dawson Flowers explained. “We said 14.”

Another Lincoln County team participating in the bowl faced its own set of stumpers — including one about an 1874 riot in Vicksburg. Brookhaven Home Educators was a first-time bowl contender this year, battling against students from East Rankin, Hancock County, and Jackson Prep. During the homeschoolers’ fifth and final round, officials asked a question concerning Mississippi’s supreme court justices. Senior Zac Lester stole the point by stating their term length when Richton High School couldn’t: eight years.