Defending Champions Presec Legon had their hearts broken in the dying moments of the 2021 National Science and Maths Quiz.
The record six-time champions were on the verge of extending their domination over the Primetime competition but their campaign was truncated in the grand finale on Friday evening.
The Legon-based boys’ school bulldozed their way through to the final, exerting their strength over all their contenders along the way but were cut to size by now-five time champions Prempeh College after the five rounds at the Great Hall of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
The 2021 competition was like no other with the venue being moved from Accra to the Ashanti regional capital Kumasi. COVID-19 protocols also meant that the prelims had to take place at various regional capitals with converging at Kumasi only beginning at the one-eighth stage.
In all these, some salient lessons were learned.
The importance of the Speed Race
The first thing fans of the competition noticed is the importance of the Speed Race in separating teams of equal strength. The contests come in five rounds; Round One, general knowledge in science where each team is directed a separate question. However, Round Two comes in a ‘fastest fingers’ fashion.
For teams of equal or near equal strength, this is their chance to take a commanding lead. Once a team answers most of the questions here, thereby denying their challengers of picking up any points, they don’t have to rely on slip-ups from their opponents to win the contest.
This worked for second runners up Keta Senior High and Technical School (Ketasco) with even the quiz mistress Prof. Elsie Effah Kaufmann being mesmerized with their speed at the quarter and semifinal stages. In the semifinal specifically, Ketasco needed this advantage to defeat Cape Coast favourites Wesley Girls SHS.
A good result in this round always benefits a team and in the final where Ketasco’s magic did not work in the speed race, it was clear the contest was lost.
Problem of the Day
Another key determinant of a team’s performance in the NSMQ is Round Three which has the ‘Problem of the Day’ where contestants are given an average of three minutes to answer question posed to all three schools.
Although the result of this round is unlikely to determine the winner in a closely fought contest, the 10 points are still needed to establish a team’s strength.
Schools who have failed repeatedly to score high marks in this round have generally failed to make it past the first stage of single elimination, the one-eighth stage—a classic example of this is Bishop Herman College from Kpando in the Volta Region.
The Catholic boys’ school have managed to establish themselves on the regional level but failed to impress at the national level, casting doubts on their otherwise reputable strength. One of the major undoing of Biheco has been the ‘Problem of the Day,’ with the school being scored zero more often than not. This takes much from the team in its aim to push past the one-eighth stage of the competition.
In 2019, St Augustine’s College came from the prelims to stun everyone and win the contest. Before then, substitutions were mainly used only when the going got tough and the team wanted to relieve a contestant off pressure.
However, Augusco used strategic substitutions to proceed to the grand finale and eventually win the competition with the name of the substitute, Newton on the lips of all NSMQ fans. He was brought in at Round Four (True or False section) and aced all the questions and displayed dominance in the final round when speed in thinking was once again needed to get victory over the line.
Since then, most schools including Ketasco, Presec Legon, St Peter’s and others have resorted to using strategic substitutes at different stages of the contest. It hasn’t always worked out but it did for Ketasco and Presec in the 2021 competition up to the final day when team Presec were left muttering “what if.”
It is no doubt that experience makes batter and the NSMQ grand finale demonstrated this on Friday. Ketasco have no doubt made name for themselves, having contested in the semifinal consistently.
On Friday, however, they were faced with two schools who have together won the most trophies while they were debuting in the grand finale. Their lack of experience competing at this level was clear and after Round Two which was otherwise their best Round in the contest, it was clear the dreams of a school from the Volta Region winning for the first time were dashed.
Presec Legon and Prempeh College were the obvious top dogs and made the experience from their recent champions count.
The Gender Question
The obvious observation of all fans of the competition is the absence of girls at the highest level of the competition with even advocates of affirmative action picking up steam. Wesley Girls SHS have however kept the torch on for the girls’ schools in the competition with regular semifinal appearances.
Quiz Mistress Elsie Effah Kaufmann disclosed during the grand finale on Friday that a female hasn’t contested in the final in eight years; of course with Francisca of Ketasco ending that spell.
The young lady demonstrated consistency throughout the tournament and proved that after-all affirmative action was not needed to get a girl into the grand finale. No doubt she is the best female contestant of the year.
Ketasco writes history
They may have come short in the grand finale but Ketasco will forever be known as the first school from the Volta Region to make it to the grand finale.
After multiple appearances in the semifinal Ketasco made 2021 count and made history. This perhaps ends the debate between them, Mawuli School and Bishop Herman College on who is the biggest in the Volta Region.
Besides, their performance at the finals, Ketasco is also the reigning champion of the Volta/Oti zone.
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