Catholic Schools Week tradition lets students compete for pride, extra credit — and even a chance to one-up their teachers
MADISON HEIGHTS — As Detroit Lions fans prepare — begrudgingly — to watch the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers face off in this year's Super Bowl, at Bishop Foley High School, another "bowl game" took center stage this week.
For the third year running, student teams at the Madison Heights school competed in the Brain Bowl during Catholic Schools Week, an academic tournament in which students compete for a large, shiny trophy, bragging rights and academic rewards such as extra credit or a homework pass.
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The teams are made up of four students each, with one representative from each grade.
“This gives an opportunity for kids at all different levels and all different age groups and classes to collaborate and work together as opposed to just putting together a team of their own friends from the same grade,” Ken Pullis, theology teacher at Bishop Foley and the "Alex Trebek" of the Brain Bowl, explained to Detroit Catholic.
Pullis, who has been an educator for 22 years and has taught at Bishop Foley for 16 years, began to dream up the idea of the Brain Bowl six years ago and finally brought it to fruition in 2022.
“I have always been interested in finding a way to help kids who are not necessarily athletes to shine so that they can kind of be a bit in the spotlight because they are bright,” Pullis said. “We tend to accentuate and emphasize a lot of our athletes — and I love sports and supporting our student-athletes — but I thought there must be a way for us to also give a shoutout to our students who are excelling in the classroom and may not be athletically inclined.”
Holding the Brain Bowl during Catholic Schools Week makes sense because it’s ultimately a show of the fruits of Catholic education, Pullis added.
“We intentionally do it during Catholic Schools Week to celebrate the education we receive at a Catholic school,” Pullis said.
The Brain Bowl questions span all subjects taught at Bishop Foley and are submitted by the teachers. This year, questions ranged from “What is the English translation of the ballet term, 'tendu'?” to, “What novel, film or musical refers to the rebellion known as the Paris uprising?” and, “Name the five books of the Torah, aka, the Pentateuch.”
Following a qualifying round held the week prior to Catholic Schools Week, four teams — two all-girls teams and two all-boys teams — made it to the semifinals on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The finalists, an all-girl team nicknamed “The Comeback Tours” and a boys team called “Bennett and the Andrews,” competed in the school auditorium in front of their peers, parents and teachers.
“Bennett and the Andrews” were named this year's Brain Bowl Champions; however, in a new twist added to this year’s competition, before they could revel in their win, they had to face off against a team of four Bishop Foley teachers in a final round, which consisted of student-submitted questions, both academic and pop culture-based (such as, “What is the new pickle trend that everyone on TikTok is trying?”). “Bennett and the Andrews” soundly defeated the teacher team as well.
“We kept up our motivation,” said freshman Andrew Bishop from the winning team. “Midgame, I quoted football coach Pete Carroll: ‘You can’t win in the first, you can’t win it in the second, but you can definitely win in the third.’”
In between rounds, there is an opportunity for audience-based participation: quizzes that are accessible via phone are opened up to the students and teachers. These questions focused on the teachers and staff and on the history of Bishop Foley High School.
Pullis said non-competing students are extra motivated to cheer on their peers because the winning team members receive academic prizes that also apply to everyone in their class.
“For example, if one of the winning students is in first-hour chemistry and the chemistry teacher has said, ‘Anyone who is on the winning team will receive extra credit or a homework pass,’ other students who are in that chemistry class want their classmate’s team to win,” Pullis said. “It turns the kid who has won that award for the class into a class hero.”
The Brain Bowl has already become an engaging Catholic Schools Week tradition at Bishop Foley, but Pullis hopes it continues to build momentum and dreams of eventually turning it into a competition between multiple local Catholic schools.
“Once we get established, I would like to invite other schools, where we have three or four Catholic schools who hold similar tournaments, and their champion comes to compete here against other winning teams,” Pullis said. “We are still building up momentum for this tradition — but that’s the hope.”