MANSFIELD — They’re smart. They’re motivated. They love trivia and ping pong.
They’re Mansfield High School’s Quiz Bowl team — sophomore Rishi Pendyala, junior Dhruv Jain, senior Aleks Kozlowski, junior Vishal Ramesh, junior Yuv Sakhalkar and junior Danielle Golub. Together they have qualified for GBH’s “High School Quiz Show,” a televised academic tournament in its 14th season on air.
Viewers can watch them face off against Melrose High School in a preliminary round at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, on GBH 2 and the High School Quiz Show YouTube channel. The episode was filmed Jan. 21. The match winner will move into an upcoming quarterfinal round.
Ken Barrett, a 13-year history teacher at Mansfield High who has been team adviser of the school’s Quiz Bowl intramural club since its inception nine years ago, said this was the team’s fourth time qualifying for the tournament out of nine attempts.
“Massachusetts has a lot of good high schools so it’s an accomplishment just to make the GBH tournament,” he said.
To make the team, Mansfield’s club of around 20 students goes through seven qualifying rounds over several weeks in the fall where participants are asked 25 written questions and three oral questions per round, according to Ramesh. The top four scoring students from the club compete as a team in GBH’s “Super Sunday” competition in November in an attempt to qualify the school for a spot on the quiz show. Those four students along with two alternates compete in the show.
“This year the top 17 schools, out of approximately 65 attempting to qualify, get to appear on the show,” Barrett said.
The students attend practices for an hour once a week and also compete in five day-long intramural tournaments during the school year, Barrett said. Some team members said they put in extra hours studying up.
“It’s amazing how much the students know at their age,” Barrett said.
The students have their favorite topics. For Pendyala, 16, it’s literature; for Jain, 16, history and geography; Ramesh, 17, likes history and science; Sakhalkar, 17, enjoys sports, science and geography, while Golub, 17, likes biology, anatomy and physiology and pop culture.
For them, participating is fun, with a mix of knowledge and camaraderie that many have naturally gravitated toward.
“I’ve always sort of been studying trivia without knowing it,” Pendyala said. “Learning about different cultures and countries was just something I did for fun, but it turned out to be really useful for Quiz Bowl.”
Some, like Jain and Ramesh, have watched the show since they were younger and wanted to compete themselves.
“I watched the show when I was in middle school, and I was determined to be a part of the team in high school,” Jain said.
Pendyala came upon the team more casually while returning a book to the library after school one day when the team happened to be meeting.
“I was already staying after school to return a library book so I thought I could spend a few minutes there,” he said. “It turned out to be one of the most fun experiences I’ve had at school and I never missed a week after that.”
The six students study and practice hard in between other activities — debate club, art club, mock trial team, percussion and marching band, orchestra, tennis, math team, baseball, health care club, Science Bowl, student council, prom committee and Best Buddies — among them.
Kozlowski, 18, enjoys “highpointing” — attempting to reach the highest natural point in each state — with his father. He has achieved this in 35 states so far.
However, they understand it’s important to take some breaks. After filming, Golub said they had lunch at a bowling and pizza place near GBH studios in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston.
“To me, this was a really special bonding experience,” she said.
They also break tension with ping pong games.
“Our team’s tradition is to play a game of ping pong right before the day we film an episode,” Pendyala said.
Sakhalkar is a co-founder of the high school’s ping pong club, which started a few months ago, and the sport factors into Jain’s most memorable experience from the club.
“(It was the) last day of practice in Rishi’s basement before the big day of the competition,” Jain said. “We decided to shake our anxiety off by playing some ping pong.”
“In that moment, I realized that no matter what happened tomorrow, I had still gained a lot of knowledge and made so many new connections with people.”
This year, after remote filming last season, teams and competitors are back in-studio in front of a live audience answering questions from host Billy Costa.
The competition has four rounds: Tossup, head-to-head, category and lightning round. Each team earns points to win.
Ramesh, who competed on last year’s virtual team along with Jain that made it to the semifinal round before falling to North Quincy, said he enjoyed competing in person.
“(Last year) we would use an online interface to select our answers from the comfort of our own homes,” he said. “While I enjoyed competing in that format, it was a lot more exciting to be in person with a live audience and getting to answer the questions with a physical handheld buzzer. I loved the experience of getting to be in the studio.”
Kozlowski echoed the sentiment.
“I had never been to GBH or any TV studio before this,” he said. “Being in the studio and being filmed was such a unique experience that I am lucky enough to be a part of.”
And no matter what happens with the competition this year, they all echo a common sentiment: The connections they’ve made with each other are just as rewarding as winning any competition.
“The most fulfilling part of the experience for me was really just being able to be a part of the team with my friends,” Pendyala said. “We worked very hard together, and I feel like this will be one of those experiences that I remember for the rest of my life.”