The team from Princeton had never heard of tiny Agnes Scott College, and were reportedly under the impression that it was a riding academy.
On one side was a team of confident, quick-talking men in sharp suits from Princeton University. On the other stood four, nervous women in brightly-colored dresses from tiny Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. The stakes were high. It was 1966 and General Electric College Bowl was in its heyday.
“I never felt that we were a David and Goliath,” team captain Malinda Snow recently recalled to Slate. “I was assuming that Agnes Scott was an excellent college, which it was, and I was assuming that we were representing one of the best women’s colleges and that we would do well, and nobody was better than we were.”
For those of you who weren’t alive yet, or have since forgotten, the ladies of Agnes Scott—Katherine Bell, Karen Gearreald, Malinda Snow, and Betty Butler—were about to pull off the greatest upset in gameshow history.
“We had very serious study sessions and took it very seriously,” Gearreald, now 73 years old, told Slate. “The Princeton boys didn’t take us too seriously, but they also didn’t take themselves too seriously.”
Snow remembers almost every detail of their study sessions. The engineering department had fashioned a countertop simulation of the College Bowl studio, using doorbells as buzzers. Under the direction of their coach, Eleanor Hutchens, they practiced straight through the fall and winter of 1965.
Meanwhile, at Princeton, the men’s study sessions involved drinking beer and tossing around practice questions at their professor’s house, Slate reports. They had never heard of Agnes Scott before, and were reportedly under the impression that it was a riding academy.
With 10 seconds left in the game, the score was 215 - 200. Princeton had the lead—barely.
“We had fallen behind, I had assumed we had lost,” Gearreald, Agnes Scott’s first blind student, recalled to Slate. “I didn’t know they had a clock. If I had known, I wouldn’t have been able to focus.”
With the seconds ticking away, the host read the final question. “Bucephalus and Roan Barbary were steeds. For 20 points, what were Balmung and Durendal?”
The ladies of Agnes Scott looked at each other. There were two seconds to go.
“I remember it so clearly, and the way I remember it is something almost surreal,” said Gearreald. “At first, I remember saying to myself, ‘We don’t know the answer.’ And then I remember as if the Lord had transported me back to my French class the previous semester.”
Speaking with Slate, Gearreald recalled what can only be described as a transcendental experience. She could hear her professor lecturing on medieval literature. She could smell the grass outside the open classroom window.
“In this French literature class, I had to concentrate on every word so not to get lost,” said Gearreald. “I thought about the question and it transported me back to that classroom, and I heard my professor say those words … the story of Roland, and Roland’s sword is Durendal.”
With just one second left on the clock, Gearreald shouted, “Swords!”
Twenty points for Agnes Scott! They had done it!
Bell, Gearreald, Snow, and Butler would return to Georgia as heroes. And the momentum from their improbable College Bowl win would stay with them forever.
According to Slate, Snow would go on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from Duke University before becoming an English professor at Georgia State. Bell, who died in the 1980s, earned a doctorate in botany and taught at the University of Nevada. Butler became an internationally respected expert on reproductive and primary health.
And then there's Gearreald.
“College Bowl gave me a great deal of confidence that I could play on the same field as sighted people without any concessions,” she told Slate. She would go on to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard and a law degree at Duke. Afterwards, she spent two decades as a Navy lawyer before becoming a Braille music instructor and adviser to the Library of Congress.
A replica of Durenda—a gift from her sister—hangs in her living room.