Education

Here’s a quiz: How did five high-school seniors show all of Detroit what character means?

In sports, there are winners and losers. In real life, there is at least one more category…the people who want to do what’s right.

Allow me to introduce you to five young men and their coaches from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. In no small feat, they became Quiz Bowl heroes when they won the 2012 National Academic Championship in Chicago this week.

That’s a great story, right? The all-senior team rises to victory, conquering any and all comers with a perfect 10-0 record at the National Tournament? Pretty amazing, huh?

Well, it gets better in my eyes. And here’s little lesson Auntie Karen wants to share with you, Detroiters. The win comes after an even greater loss. It comes out of being humble, taking your lumps, accepting defeat, facing failure – and still being willing to rise above what is easy.

Here’s what happened behind the scenes. Turns out the U of D Jesuit Quiz Bowl team also could have been league champs. A few months back, they were playing Northville in a league match, and things were coming down to the wire. According to the official running the game, U of D Jesuit had to win two games to be named league champs.

Northville was leading most of the match, but then U of D Jesuit staged a big comeback. But it wasn’t enough – Northville was on the verge of winning when Commissioner Craig Barker ruled that its team failed to answer its question within the required five-second time frame. Cue the “We are the Champions” song, right?

With that ruling, U of D Jesuit had effectively won the match. … Until the Jesuit school’s team decided that wasn’t the way it wanted to end it.

Rather than accept their victory on a technicality, the U of D Jesuit team – which includes Nick Bergeman of Farmington Hills, Andrew Gutman of Northville, Eric Kuhn of Grosse Pointe Woods, team captain Ben Peck of Huntington Woods and Grady Peck of Huntington Woods – asked Barker to replay the session. In doing so, Northville answered all three questions in this round correctly and won.

“The Northville team answered the last question just as the moderator called time, so the timing was in question but it was clear that they knew the answer. We all just sat there for a few seconds until team member Nick Bergeman said, ‘I don’t want to win this way,’” Ben Peck told me.

“It didn’t seem like a real victory to win on a really close call like that, and we knew that Northville wanted to protest the call but couldn’t due to league rules. The entire team agreed to protest the call ourselves and give Northville a redo simply because it seemed fair. We lost when they got the redo question right, but we all agreed that it was better to lose on principle than to win on a technicality. That’s how we would rather play and that’s what U of D stands for,” Peck added.

Sure, that decision made U of D Jesuit lose the league title. But that was only one game, one match, one moment. When push met shove, they decided to take the hit with dignity. And these five men decided to play the game with honor.

“They forfeited the league title – because it was the right thing to do,” Karl J. Kiser, S.J., President of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, told me when I talked to him about the school’s larger victory this week.

Kiser didn’t brag about the so-called big win. Rather, he was awe-struck by both the bravery of these young men as well as their character. Even the quiz official was so impressed he wrote a letter to the school so they would know how very surprising — and unusual — the situation truly was.

Thanks to the way the quiz thing is set up, losing a league title doesn’t preclude you from going to “The Show.” They got to go to the National Championship. They got another chance.

Peck called the national championship “simply amazing.”

“I had hoped to go far in the playoffs, but I never imagined we would win the entire tournament.  When the moderator told us that the last question had been read and we had won, my first reaction was utter disbelief,” Peck said. “All in all, it was an incredible experience to be able to play with the team, not just this year but for the last four as well. They’re an incredible group of guys.

“I’m proud to have been part of that team and proud to have accomplished something that reflects well on our school and our city. We just played our best each game and the outcome was better than we could ever have expected. No matter the outcome, the championship game was our last quiz bowl game as a team, and we wanted to go out on a good note and play our best for Mr. Roberge. We finished four good years in the best way possible, and it’s been wonderful,” Peck said.

Moral fiber. Do we have it? I’d say Detroit has it by the bushel. We don’t get lippy when someone writes yet another ridiculous article about our empty factories or ruined homes. We don’t get frazzled when a national news story or professional comedian compares us to nuclear devastation. We tend to tighten our resolve, ignore the ignorance and look forward.

Dear Detroit, we have a huge challenge ahead of us. A city needs to be rebuilt. A government needs major repair. A reputation must be updated, fixed and improved.

We must do it like this U of D Jesuit team – with character.

Kudos to Head Coach Ed Roberge and Assistant Coach Dan Hill. Kudos to the all-senior team. Kudos to their parents, their families and their educational community. You’re doing a bang-up job over there, fellas. I’ve had the huge pleasure of knowing a few U of D Jesuit grads, and they are among my favorite people in the world. I’ll have to add you new guys to my list.

And let this be a lesson to all – winning is great. But standing tall when you’re losing and having the foresight to see victory just ahead of you is something just as great.

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