PORT ORCHARD — The competition was fierce at the Awana Summit national Bible quiz finals in early April. Walking away with the trophy were four Port Orchard teens, the only representatives of Washington state.
The two sets of sisters — Calysta Bauer, 18, Athena Bauer, 15, Rachael Melanson, 15, and Hannah Melanson, 17 — are homeschooled and coached by their moms, Jo Bauer and Bonnie Melanson. The girls have spent hundreds of hours since August — thousands over their lifetimes — committing to memory Bible verses as part of their involvement in Awana, a global nonprofit that "reaches kids for Christ through fun."
The team came in second in the national competition last year in Washington, D.C.
"Just one more question and we could have won," Calysta said wistfully.
That year, they were new to the national competition. Everybody was talking about the team from Washington state with their hands so quick on the buzzers. They were the first Washington team at nationals in seven years, according to Jo Bauer.
This year, they had honed their strategy, identifying each team member's strengths and divvying up the material in the thick book of verses, definitions and information on the Bible on which they would be quizzed in the Jeopardy-style game.
"It's very competitive, very fast-paced," Rachael said. "In competition, you can get really caught up in wanting to win. It can really take your mind off why you're memorizing all these verses."
The girls laugh when asked about the irony of a Bible competition given Christianity's focus on humility. They get it.
"For me personally, it's a way for me to memorize Scripture and dig deeper into it because it's a way of showing what you've learned," Calysta said.
"It's long. It's tedious, and there are times you want to cry a little, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the world," Rachael said. "You come out of it stronger mentally, but you also have this stronger, deeper knowledge of God."
The team prevailed at the regional competition in February.
In Colorado, they were one of 52 teams. They survived the elimination round and the semifinal round. Calysta and Hannah were co-captains.
"You can only send one person up twice in a row (to answer a question for the team). The captain has to make these super-stressful decisions," Calysta said.
The Awana Summit included other competitions for high school youth, such as physical games of skill, dance, music and visual art. The Bible quiz finals were late in the day at the end of the event.
"It was nerve-wracking," Rachael said. "We were there the entire day waiting, and time seemed to slow down."
There were 10 other teams. One of the guys on another team had them all do the hokey-pokey to break the tension.
After their victory, there was encouragement all around — no cutthroat competition or hard feelings. Afterward, the teens from all over the country gathered around a piano to sing worship songs and play cards.
Each of the winning team members got a $500 scholarship. Calysta and Hannah will use it as they head off to college next year.
Calysta will attend Northwest College in Kirkland. She plans a career in medicine.
"I want to become a medical doctor and work in underserved rural areas because that's my way of spreading the gospel," she said.
Hannah will attend Olympic College. She loves art and music. "My dream is to be an animator," she said.
Athena and Rachael have some time to firm up their plans. Athena is interested in science, specifically biology. Rachael has been thinking of going on missions "to reach kids or different communities with the good news of Jesus, along with shelter and water."
Although the team will dissolve as the older girls move on in life, the two younger girls plan to continue in Bible quiz competitions. And the four will always remain close friends.