Davidson received their first invitation in 1959. Davidson College President D. Grier Martin remarked that the televised college bowl was Davidson’s “best opportunity for national publicity in the history of this college” (Duggan). He was not talking about a Davidson football game; he was talking about Davidson’s college bowl team going on television.
The GE College Bowl was a panel show broadcasted nationwide from the 1950s through the 1970s. In February 1959, the show invited the small, southern school of Davidson College to participate in the televised tournament. President D. Grier Martin took advantage of this opportunity, sending out hundreds of postal notices to parents and alumni. The college quickly formed a search committee and nominated twenty students to take part in a rigorous testing schedule. After a series of five different tests, the college’s first team emerged: Captain Bob Livingston, Frank Nye, Laurens Walker, Charles Chastain, and Monty Bracey as alternate (“Letter to Charlotte News”).
The team was a personable one. When Davidson’s opponent, the University of Minnesota, offered to set up dates for Saturday night before competition, one team member stated that it “sounds like sabotage” and elected to take the dates for Sunday night, instead (Duggan). According to questionnaires distributed by the broadcasters, none of the Davidson boys were “going steady,” “pinned” or “engaged” (“Information Sheet”). Truly, they were Davidson’s most eligible bachelors.
When Sunday, the nineteenth of April finally arrived, the Davidson team sat behind a long table in front of the lights and cameramen. They had rehearsals and three practice quiz sessions with their opponent before going on the air (“Team Out-Buzzt’d”).
Had Davidson won the match, the camera crews would have made the trek to Chambers Auditorium for the next broadcast (“Letter to Charlotte News”). Instead, only the Davidson team came back to North Carolina, for they fell to Minnesota, 155-90 (“Team Out-Bzzzt’d”). Monday morning, students were “relieved to … see that the sun was still shining and the college was still standing” after their school’s disheartening defeat (“Sun Also Rises”). But all was not lost. In a telegram, a CBS television network official said, “Your ambassadors who represented Davidson to America on the GE College Bowl may have been short in points scored, but they scored heavily in gaining friendship and appreciation for their school. No non-winning team ever made such a splendid impression as Davidson” (“Sun Also Rises”).
A decade later, Davidson had more time to prepare. The college chose the team based on buzzer quickness firstly and then on the amount of information they knew (“Davidson College”). Robert Bryan, christened “La Grange Flash” by the Dillard team, captained Davidson’s squad (Sherwood). His personality quirks earned him America’s love. In one game, Bryan was so nervous that he knocked his own glasses to the ground. Days later, he bit his knuckles so badly, that they began to bleed (“Davidson College”). His southern accent was his identifying feature. “The drawl comes from nervousness,” he explained (Covington).
This time around, Davidson returned to television screens across America, taking $19,500 in prize money for their five wins against Colgate, University of Arizona, Wesleyan, Skidmore and Dillard (Sherwood). They were the show’s thirty-third team in history to record five consecutive wins and amounted the fourth highest point total ever with 1,560. For their efforts, the 1969 team received a silver bowl (Sherwood).
Several years later, General Electric pulled their support of the college bowl. The company feared that college students might take advantage of television airtime to denounce the Vietnam War. The Association of College Unions International put together an almost identical competition to replace the televised version (Brown).
For the next couple decades, Davidson College continued to produce worthy college bowl teams. In 1979, the Wildcats beat Harvard’s squad of four 405-110 to become the champions in Miami Beach. Finishing on top of 200 other colleges, Davidson brought back a victory prize of $5,000 (Lawrimore). They also flew to England for a week to play against the top British team at the University Challenge. Sydney Sussex won the competition in a match that came down to the final question (Brown).
1981 generated a second-place finishing Davidson team at Nationals, but the program began to decline soon after (Graham). “It was a strong program for several years under Hansford Epes,” said William Brown, current director of the College Union. “We used to play every Monday night in the Union for the whole fall semester. But then there just wasn’t enough interest.”
College bowl at Davidson came to a halt for several years until 2001, when Brown and James Gilbert started the tradition up again (Brown). Since then, Davidson has returned to nationals twice, with the 2004 group finishing ninth and the 2006 group finishing sixth.
Brown, William. Personal interview. 19 Oct. 2006.
“The College Quiz Bowl Information Sheet for Telecast.” GE College Bowl. Apr. 1959.
Covington, Roy. “Quiz Champs Get Heroes’ Welcome.” The Charlotte Observer. 29 Apr. 1969.
“Davidson College: College Bowl Champions.” Pamphlet. May 1969.
Duggan, Ervin. “Bowl Team Heads for DC – Minnesota Wrangle.” The Davidsonian. 17 Apr. 1959.
Graham, Nick. “Whiz kids place second in U.S.” The Davidsonian. 27 Mar. 1981.
Lawrimore, Earl. “Davidson is No. 1 among 200 competing institutions.” Davidson Update. Vol. 8, No. 4. Jun-Jul 1979.
“Letter to the Charlotte News.” Davidson College release. 25 Mar. 1959.
Sherwood, Bill. “Bowl Team Champions Get Silver Bowl, Good Publicity.” The Davidsonian. 2 May 1969.
“Sun Also Rises.” The Davidsonian. 24 Apr. 1959
“Team Out-Bzzzt’d on Television Quiz.” The Davidsonian. 24 Apr. 1959.
Author: Suzie Eckl ’09
Date: 2 November 2006
Cite as: Eckl, Suzie. “College Bowl,” Davidson Encyclopedia 2 November 2006. https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/encyclopedia/page/college-bowl