Having come off consecutive third-place finishes in the 2018 and 2019 Delco Hi-Q Championships--the first back-to-back finals appearances in the school’s history--Delaware County Christian School’s Hi-Q team slipped to eighth place and just out of playoff contention in 2019-20, making the 2020-21 season a campaign filled with uncertain expectations.
Upon losing a half-dozen members from the 2019-20 squad to graduation and other unforeseen developments, 22-year Hi-Q advisor Thom Houghton sought to rebuild the 2020-21 team behind senior co-captains Hannah Gifford and Peter Yeung—a pair of three-year veterans who would be complemented by returning sophomores Hannah Yang and Candice Wang.
After adding first-year senior Tom Shen to the mix, the team’s adviser then turned to the middle school, filling out the squad with five untested, but promising freshmen: Nicholas Fanelli-Salazar, Karis Lo, Seth Nelaturi, Sidney Petrulis, and DJ Swaner. Never before had DC Hi-Q fielded a squad with more than two freshmen, let alone five; nor had the team ever participated in a virtual competition devoid of in-person fans, including its own wildly supportive home crowd. Indeed, both of these factors would test the youthful team’s mettle.
Nevertheless, DC’s 2020-21 squad shot out of the gates in mid-December with a convincing “home” conquest of perennial playoff contenders Strath Haven and Penncrest High Schools, claiming a weather-delayed 50-37-35 victory. Following a prolonged break from competition, the team returned to action in late January of 2021, encountering powerhouse Garnet Valley High School—a decorated squad that had impressively captured the last two Delco Hi-Q Championships. Despite losing to the Jaguars, 58-46, the Knights discovered they could indeed compete with Delco Hi-Q’s premier program—a squad whom they would face again for higher stakes in just six weeks. In the meantime, less than a week later, DC Hi-Q finished their regular season with a closely contested meet versus Ridley and Sun Valley High Schools, the Knights emerging with a hard-fought 47-40-35 victory.
As a result of their consistent performance throughout the regular season, the DC Hi-Q team procured a third seed in the postseason with 143 cumulative points, positioning them as “virtual” hosts against neighboring foes, Radnor and Penncrest High Schools. In a Feb. 16 semifinal that proved reminiscent of a memorable on-stage playoff victory over Marple Newtown HS in 2018, the Knights were forced to capture the victory in tiebreaking fashion, but this time over a two-day span. After seemingly winning the semifinal meet, 44-43-36, the Knights were informed that second-place Radnor HS had successfully appealed a Geography question, thereby forging a 44-44 tie. The very next day, the Knights would be forced to win a thrilling six-question tiebreaker, 20-16, clinching the semifinal victory on the very last question. Finally, the stage was set for the team’s sixth Delco HI-Q Championship appearance in its history and the third in four years.
Nearly three weeks later, on March 5, the Knights’ highly improbable season found them in the championship round for the third time in four years—this time against first-seeded Garnet Valley and second-seeded Haverford High School, two teams that had twenty Delco HI-Q championships in their collective possession. Holding a 28-23-16 lead at intermission before a virtual crowd that included the entire Upper and Lower School campuses and countless parents, friends, and alumni, the Knights nonetheless found themselves in a second-half predicament, trailing Haverford, 43-40, and leading the Jaguars by just four. Only a four-point Math Toss-Up question remained. Incredibly, the third-seeded Knights were the only team of the three to answer the Math question correctly within the agonizing sixty seconds, vaulting them into a one-point lead over the Fords as the meet seemingly screeched to a heart-pounding halt. Still, one final obstacle remained: yet another appeal!
After enduring a grueling five-minute challenge period that included a Geography appeal by Haverford—a scenario eerily similar to Radnor’s challenge three weeks prior—veteran quizmaster Rick Durante reappeared on the screen with the following words: “You can begin celebrating, Delaware County Christian.” Final score: DC, 44; Haverford 41 (two-point deduction for declined appeal); Garnet Valley, 36. And celebrate they did!
After twenty-eight seasons of HI-Q competition, the DC HI-Q team had become just the second non-public school to win the Delco H-Q Championship in seventy-three years and the first since Cardinal O’Hara High School in 1979. Two and a half weeks later, the team would enthusiastically celebrate their victory with their “12th Man”--the entire high school student body, faculty, administrators, staff, and family members--as representatives from Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union presented the Donna Zerby Memorial Trophy to the Knights on the new DC Turf Field. Part of the event was even aired on Channel 6 News!
Nearly six weeks after their historic Delco HI-Q Championship victory, the Knights sought to add a National Hi-Q Championship to their resume on April 14, opposing Baker High School from Mobile, Alabama, and Marysville-Getchell High School from Marysville, Washington in yet another virtual competition. Leading their foes at the half, 28-26-16, the Knights looked to be well on their way to adding more hardware to their trophy case. However, in an ensuing second half that included multiple lead changes with a persistent Baker HS squad, the Knights fairy-tale season ended with DC’s H-Q team finishing a mere two points behind their Southern counterparts. Final score: Baker HS, 51; DC, 49; M-G HS, 31.
Despite falling just shy of claiming a HI-Q National Championship, the Knights still have inscribed their names in the record books, becoming the first team since Strath Haven HS in 2005 to win their first Delco HI-Q Championship. Accordingly, the team was recognized at the Partners in Education Virtual Celebration on Thursday, April 22, where they were honored for their accomplishment and awarded $3,000 for earning first place. In addition, senior co-captain Hannah Gifford was acknowledged as DC’s selection to the 2021 All-Delco HI-Q Team.
“Dr. Roy Lowrie, our school’s first head of school, always maintained that Christians don’t have to settle for a second-class education,” remarked long-time advisor Thom Houghton. “I am so grateful for the fact that our school has always sought to pursue the admonition of Colossian 3:23--that is, to honor the Lord in all that we do, including our minds.”
Simply put, after twenty-eight years of HI-Q competition and five previous trips to the finals that all resulted in third-place finishes, 2020-21 is truly a season for the ages for both DC’s HI-Q team and the entire DC community.