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Local team takes first place in national trivia challenge

Three Russellville citizens are coming home from Las Vegas a little richer – but it’s not from playing the slots. These men hit the jackpot in a less conventional way: by winning the 2016 National Trivia League tournament at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The Pacers – made up of Russellville’s Slade Gilmer, Brent Jackson and Chris Pace, along with East Limestone’s Jamie Golliver and Casey Lowery, won the national competition hosted by Challenge Entertainment after finishing in the top five at Sam’s Sports Grill in Decatur. They beat out 157 other teams to claim the championship – with winnings totaling $20,000 hard cash and a trophy.

“We overcame a rough stretch where we missed six questions in seven to come back and win,” said Gilmer. “We did have every intention of winning. We also played probably our worst first half ever and thought we might have played ourselves out of contention, but luckily for us, the questions were tripping up a lot of teams, and we found ourselves in striking distance. We played a much better second half and dragged ourselves from 27th to a tie for 11th – but 22 points behind the leaders.

Everyone loves an underdog, or so the saying goes. Gilmer said being behind by so many points gave the Pacers the motivation they needed to fight back to the top.

Questions varied from topics like literature – Lowery’s and Pace’s specialty – to pop culture – Golliver’s and Jackson’s wheelhouse. “I bring history, sports and a little bit of pop culture,” Gilmer said. Politics, vocabulary and science topics are also fair game.

Each team member has a background in trivia competitions, with Pace and Gilmer playing together at RHS in 2001 and Pace and Jackson playing together at NWSCC in 2005. “Jamie played at Rogers back in the day and coached the scholars bowl team at Liberty Middle in Madison … Casey won a JUCO national title at Northeast Alabama Community College,” Gilmer said.

This wasn’t the first rodeo for the Pacers as a team, either. They also qualified for the national competition last year, missing the final question to knock themselves out of the running. They have been playing together since 2011 and won the Mid-South tourney in 2014 in Tunica, Miss.

The Pacers fought through a five-round first half, a four-part halftime question and a five-round second half, with each subsequent being worth a greater number of points. The final question promised 30 points for the correct answer but a penalty for incorrect answers.

For the final question, the team had to put the following events in order from earliest to most recent: Soviet Union’s Luna 2 crash lands on the moon; first man-made satellite to land on the moon; George Wallace becomes governor of Alabama; Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” debuts on Broadway; and Elvis makes his third appearance on Ed Sullivan – shown only waist-up.

“I knew Wallace was elected in 1962, I was pretty sure Elvis was around 1956 or 1957, and I was pretty sure that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was early- to mid-1950s,” Gilmer said. “I thought we had had some satellites reach the moon in the early 1960s, and I knew Sputnik didn’t go up until 1957, so it had to be after that. So, we went Williams, Elvis, Luna, Wallace – which was correct.”

After a series of tiebreakers, the Pacers waited to find out the final point totals and the winners.

“As we heard the point totals, we knew we were top ten. Then we knew we were top five,” Gilmer said. “The guy then announced, ‘In second place – from Collierville, Tennessee …’ At that point, we knew we had won.”

Gilmer said he’s “not sure if it has, or will, sink in anytime soon.”