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Earlier this year, 15-year-old Kayla Patel walked into a room filled with mostly young boys – her competitors in the Southern New Jersey History Bee and Bowl. That same day, she walked out of the room with third- and second-place wins, and a qualification for the National History Bee and Bowl Championships.

“It was a little nerve-wracking, mostly because the other competitors were boys, so I was one of the only girls competing,” Patel says. “I was really happy that I was able to qualify and show that girls can do things just as well as guys can. Honestly, there should be more girls in all fields, so I was really happy I managed to qualify – not just as a girl, but to qualify at all.”

The National History Bee and Bowl Championships will take place April 27-29 in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va. Patel, who lives in Mount Laurel and is a freshman at Moorestown Friends School, will compete in the Varsity Nationals category, against 91 other teams.

“It’s surreal, because I went into the regional competition thinking, ‘I’ll just get some good experience, I’ll see what the questions are like and hopefully just have a good time,’” Patel adds. “I honestly didn’t expect to do so well, so I’m excited to be going to nationals.”

In the history bee and bowl, competitors answer paragraph-length questions to accumulate points. Questions are Jeopardy-style, and offer clues like, “During an October 1967 protest at this facility, George Harris placed carnations in the barrels of soldiers’ guns. In 2010, Jeffrey Amos was one of two policeman shot by John Patrick Bedell at this facility’s underground Metro station.” Answer? The Pentagon.

While individuals compete in the history bee, teams of three or four attend the history bowl. But Patel decided to compete against these groups as a team of one.

“It was honestly a little last-minute,” she says. “I knew that most teams were going to be made up of three or four people, but I went by myself because we hadn’t organized a team and I really wanted to do it. I figured instead of wasting time trying to compile a team, I might as well try to compete by myself.”

Patel said her strategy was to listen carefully for keywords in a question that might trigger an answer, in which case she buzzed in immediately. Other times, she waited until the moderator completed the entire paragraph.

The teen’s love for history began when she was little and read history books with her mom. As she grew older, her family would go on vacations and Patel would read up on all the historical sites they planned to visit. That fine-tuned habit of reading history books is what she uses to study for her competitions, and she plans to read more history books to study for the championships.

“I feel like I’m just reading a book,” she says. “In general, the history bowl was fun for me because I love history and I love trivia, so I figured why not just give it a try. I don’t see reading as studying – I see it as gaining more knowledge, which is what I love to do.”

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