Teams lock in heated battle to win Lawrence University's Midwest Trivia Contest

The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 31, 2010.

By Maureen Wallenfang
Post-Crescent staff writer

APPLETON — While the Bank of Kaukauna vs. Trivia Pirates Arrgh isn't as well-known as say the Packers vs. Vikings, it's still an intense team rivalry that has burned and festered for years.

Both are teams in the 45th annual Midwest Trivia Contest, a beloved and pointless trivia competition run out of the WLFM studios on Lawrence University's campus. The 50-hour contest wraps up tonight at midnight.

The Bank of Kaukauna, which has won every off-campus team title since 2001, is going for its 10th consecutive win.

"We're like the New York Yankees of trivia," one of its founders, John Brogan, said in a news release put out by the university, inflaming the pre-contest ire. "Everyone hates us. Everyone wants to beat us. Everyone is welcome to try."

The quote may have been posted on any one of the 79 other team bulletin boards to fuel momentum in the round-the-clock contest broadcast over the Internet.

"If they're the Yankees, that makes us the Red Sox. We've got to cowboy up," said Lee Salawitch from Baltimore, playing on the Trivia Pirates Arrgh team that has been beaten by the Bank for more years than they care to remember. They came in second last year, behind by just 15 points. "That's because they got all that TARP money," he joked.

Bring it on, says Kaukauna's Brogan.

"The competition is part of what makes it fun. I'm not saying they can't beat us. They have to work for it," Brogan said.

Shawn Grant, a Pirates player from Beaver Dam, said his team has actually won more times because the Pirates are an amalgam of two teams, one of which changed its name every year. It was dominant in the 1990s, the pre-Internet era, and documents its 10 first-place wins through 2000 with a series of unsightly trophies displayed in the basement of Dave and Jamie Van Heertum in Combined Locks.

It won under names like Who Fed Roger Ebert in 1990, Cheese Schnapps in 1996 and Triviagra in 1999. Trophies range from a broken pink rotary princess phone to a deflated football.

Both the Bank and Pirates teams have about 30 core members.

Meanwhile, on-campus rivalries are just as heated, with one of the longtime winning teams, Bucky's, just five points behind the current on-campus leader, Lawrence Undead, late Saturday afternoon.

Last year, the team called Morgan Freeman was ahead and Bucky's came from behind to win, recalled Nathan Lane, one of the trivia masters from Kansas City.

"Bucky's does not sleep," Lane said. "Their ascension coincides with the prevalence of the Internet. It favors a certain type of player."

Likewise the Bank of Kaukauna credits a lot of its wins to the rise of the Internet and the skills of its players, many of them lawyers, assembled from 12 states.

"We were an early adopter of the Internet. We were never going to build up a library like the other teams," said Brogan, whose family owns the actual Bank of Kaukauna.

"We're the secret weapon," chimed in his wife Patty, who was overseeing a group chopping mounds of garlic and preparing gourmet food in a Kaukauna home kitchen worthy of Martha Stewart. John Brogan said for his team, the food is as much of a draw as the contest itself. On the menu were poached eggs with spinach, Indian food and homemade eclairs.

Most other teams, in contrast, run potluck spreads and assemble in basements.

But they too, have secret weapons that go beyond technology.

Multiple generations were the chief asset at the Pirates, said player Rocco Sacco from Philadelphia. "I like to think of the team as a group of enthusiastic youngsters and cranky oldsters."

Additional Facts
About the contest
What: Lawrence University's 45th annual Midwest Trivia Contest
When: The 50-hour contest runs through midnight tonight
Where: Teams are located on- and off-campus. At Lawrence, the broadcast originates from the WLFM studio in the basement of the Music-Drama Center on campus.
To listen: On the Web at For more information, go to
Some notable team names: Brett Favre's Waffle House, Combined Dreadlocks, Team Toyota Puts Pedal to the Metal and Sexting with Tiger. A number of longstanding teams with variations on the same name each year, including Skull Squadron, Iowans, Fluffy Bunnies, Morgan Freeman, Bucky's, Jabberwocky, Bank of Kaukauna and Trivia Pirates Arrgh.