STERLING – Twelve students sit in the front of Sterling High School's cafeteria – three tables with four students at each. They're members of the varsity scholastic bowl teams from Rock Falls, Sterling and Newman high schools.
Most wear uniforms, some wear glasses, all are clearly excited.
At 7:11, the 38th annual scholastic bowl sponsored by the Rock Falls Optimist Club officially begins.
Rock Falls is the first to get points on the board after a question about excommunication, and then three 10-minute rounds follow, a series of questions and answers volleyed back and forth between students and moderator. The questions were sealed in a packet until the evening begins.
This year, Tim Propheter is the event's chair.
"These kids are the best and the brightest of our community," he says. "They're our next leaders."
At the end of round one, Rock Falls leads with 100 points, followed by Newman with 90 and Sterling with 50.
There are about 40 people in the audience – friends, family, Optimists and fellow team members; nearly every one visibly straining to not blurt out the answers to the questions before the players do.
Questions cover practically every topic. The students are asked to define "beefcake," solve equations, name historical periods and events from the life of Jesus. A question about the kama sutra, answered correctly and without hesitation by Rock Falls Captain Blake Shipman, is met with more than a few giggles.
After the second round, Newman is up 140 to Rock Falls' 110 and Sterling's 70.
Another round and it's a tie score: Rock Falls and Newman both with 180 points.
This calls for a tiebreaker. The audience applauds as Sterling team members take their seats. Four questions follow, after which Newman is pronounced the winner, beating Rock Falls by 10 points.
As it happens, Newman's coach is Ann Propheter. She's been coaching Newman's team for 13 years. If her last name sounds relatively familiar, that's because she shares it with the man chairing tonight's event. He's her husband.
"We've got a little nepotism going on tonight," she says with a laugh.
This is the second year in a row that Newman is taking home the Optimists' trophy, and team captains junior Elliott Frankfother, 16, and senior Nate Edison, 17, are pretty excited.
"But this one was slightly closer than the one last year," Frankfother says.