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High school quiz bowl competitions face uncertain future due to budget cuts, shifting priorities

Under quiz show pressure
The legacy of student quiz shows 05:53

High school quiz bowl competitions have been around for more than half a century, offering students the opportunity to compete and showcase their knowledge on various topics. But the competitions now face an uncertain future as budget cuts and shifting priorities put pressure on quiz bowl programs to survive.

CBS News has found that at least half a dozen quiz shows have been canceled in recent years. The National Academic Quiz Tournaments organization reports that the number of high schools participating in their competitions decreased from 3,753 in 2018 to 3,501 in 2023.

Despite the challenges, many alumni credit the programs with instilling in them a sense of confidence and a passion for learning. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who competed on New York City's "It's Academic" in the 1960s, says the experience gave him the confidence he needed to succeed in his career.

"I was always a little nervous before going on the show. But the minute I sat in that chair, I was rolling," said Schumer.

The Washington D.C.-based "It's Academic" is considered the world's longest-running TV quiz show, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. But the show was on the brink of extinction two years ago when its longtime sponsor withdrew its funding, according to host Hillary Howard.

"We were forced to find new sponsors, which is not an easy task," she said, adding that it's a costly production. 

However, the show managed to survive, largely thanks to a philanthropist who generously kept the cameras rolling and the buzzers buzzing.

Hannah Bunting of Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Virginia, is one of the current superstars of the sport. She is on the swim team and plays field hockey, but says the quiz bowl is what really makes her sweat. She also likes the camaraderie of it: players split up specialties and train together.

"You're answering the questions individually, but you're studying together, and you're building up points together," Bunting said.

Bunting, known for her quick reflexes on the buzzer, had multiple offers for college admission but carefully considered her options before deciding to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall with a full tuition scholarship. Additionally, she secured a guaranteed spot at VCU's medical school after completing her undergraduate degree.

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