Making of a scholars’ bowl powerhouse: Coach Lee Henry reviews busy year for West Point scholars’ bowl teams


The all-fifth-grade West Point Intermediate team won the sixth-grade division at the West Point High School Invitational in March.  L-R: John Davis Yovino, Brodie Henry, Eli Taylor, Katie Beth Yovino (Photo courtesy Lee Henry)

WEST POINT – The 2017-18 school year was a huge one for Lee Henry and the students he coached on multiple scholars’ bowl teams at West Point Intermediate (WPI), Middle (WPM) and High (WPH) Schools:  an undefeated “regular season” for his high schoolers going into the state tournament, national tournament bids for his high school and middle school teams, and an all-fifth grade intermediate school team (which included his son Brodie) that swept the all-sixth grade field in an invitational tournament.

Henry stayed in touch with The Tribune through the spring, updating the progress of his teams and taking time at the end of the season to reflect on the experience.

County tournament

On January 26, the high school and middle school teams swept the county tournament without the loss of a single match.  WPM’s Carter Duke took the top individual middle school spot, while the top three high school individuals were all from WPH: Will Parker, Tom Parker and Kohan Lovett.

District competitions

On the day following the county tournament, WPM placed second in its pool at the district middle school tournament, qualifying it for state competition.  WPH followed suit in February with a first-place finish at the district high school tournament. Both teams’ finishes also qualified them to attend their respective national tournaments in May.

West Point Invitational

The invitational tournament held on West Point’s “home court” challenged the all-fifth-grade team from WPI.  It proved itself, though, sweeping a field otherwise made up entirely of sixth graders. With their season officially ended, the intermediate students were allowed to join WPM for the state and national tournaments.

Snead State Invitational

Missing senior starter Billy Ellis, Henry put in Gabe Aufderhaar, then brought in sophomore Garrett Willingham for the match against powerhouse Hoover, which WPH won.  Henry said of Willingham’s breakout performance, “He made the difference for sure. We wouldn't have won that match without him.”

In the championship match against Gadsden City, senior captain Will Parker solved a math computation “insanely fast” (in Henry’s words) to win the match on the last question.

State tournaments

WPH went into the April state tournament undefeated, looking to land its third consecutive state 5A division title, but fell to Sylacauga on the final question in the championship match, leaving the scholars disappointed runners up, but still eyeing the national tournament.

WPM won only one match at state and did not place but had already qualified to attend nationals in May.

2018 Small School National Championship

Henry took three WPH teams (A, B, and C) to nationals in Rosemont, Illinois at the end of April and provided a rundown on the group experience, with a special focus on all-senior Team A:

“The top 96 Quiz Bowl teams from small schools (500 students or less in grades 10-12) were at the tournament.  After failing to three-peat as the 5A State Champions due to a heartbreaking loss to Sylacauga in the championship round a couple of weeks ago, I think my guys had something to prove.  They didn't play great during Saturday's prelims. Every team played 10 prelim matches. Teams that went 6-4 or better moved on to the double-elimination playoffs on Sunday. The team went 7-3 and went into Sunday's playoffs seeded number 10.  That was the lowest seed we've ever gotten in this tournament.

“But something happened on Sunday.  The team came alive like I hadn't seen from them in a while.  It was like a different team. For example, one of our prelim losses on Saturday was against Southwestern High School for Piasa, Illinois.  They destroyed us by a whopping 660-135. In the second round of the playoffs, we came against them again. I could see how confident Southwestern was to be playing us again.  Except this time, we beat them 480-220.

“After that, we played Ottawa Hills, Ohio, who would eventually place second.  We only lost by 20 points. After that, it was do-or-die. These kids knew that their next loss would be their last round together.  And, they were just determined to stay alive. We beat teams that statistically were way better than us. On paper, we were lucky to be in the top 10.  But, thanks to some great play, some miraculous comebacks, and some amazing luck, we managed to finish the tournament in fifth place.

“In addition to the fifth-place finish for the seniors on the A team, our B team went five and five in the prelims and were only a win away from making the playoffs themselves.  The highlight there was that sophomore Garrett Willingham received a "Rising Star" trophy for being the second-highest scoring sophomore in the tournament. Obviously, this makes me confident that we can continue to have success over the next few years.  Even our young C team was able to go two and eight!”

Henry, whose entire A Team is graduating (something the coach has never faced in his 20 years), said of Willingham, “Knowing that Garrett is there as the rising star, and I’m going to have two more years with him, that makes me feel confident that we’re going to keep moving forward.  And we’ve got a lot of talent moving up.”

2018 National Middle School Championship Tournament

Two weeks after his high school team saw a top five national finish, Henry was back at the same hotel in Illinois with two WPM teams which, by that time, included his own son, fifth-grader Brodie Henry.  Henry said of that experience:

“I kind of knew they were going to struggle, and I had no illusions that we were going to win that or even make the playoffs, but I told them–they won one match at state; I wanted them to win two matches at nationals.  And (the A Team) did that. So, in less than two months, they went from one win at state to two wins at nationals, and that shows a lot of improvement in a short amount of time.”

As proud as Henry was of all his players, no parent would fault him for taking time to point out that his son Brodie, on the WPM B Team, was ranked as the number five fifth grader at the national tournament.  Said Henry, “I’m proud of him, and he loves it, and I can only imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s in high school.”

To his seniors

WPH’s A team is composed of four seniors: Will Parker, Tom Parker, Kohan Lovett and Billy Ellis.  Of his players about to graduate, Henry said:

“It's always hard to say goodbye to your seniors–the kids you've worked with and watched grow as players and as people for several years–but this group is just special to me.  They have gone to war together for four-plus years. They've also gone to war against each other, and even against me a few times! But I thanked them from the heart before their last match on Sunday.  Sunday was one of the most-fun days of my 20-year coaching career. It was an absolute blast watching them succeed at such a high level. Of course, I'd have loved to have won the whole thing, but these kids played their hearts out and I couldn't ask for much more.  I'm going to miss them dearly.”

Of those coming up

Henry also talked about the group of players he still has for next year and beyond; who, from the sixth grade up, all have national championship competitive experience:

“I’m trying to build something, and I think it’s going to come together.  Having them from fifth grade to 12th grade is huge. Of course, that's going to make saying goodbye even harder in the years to come, especially since my son, Brodie Henry, is currently on the fifth-grade team.  But I'm very excited to see how far I can take a team with seven consecutive years of coaching!”

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