Grammar Bowl Matches Students, Sentences in GCU Arena

April 16, 2012 / by / 1 Comment

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Tim Winzeler 

Bob Safran says grammar is a lot like football, and he’s got a point there, believe it or not. 

You can’t tell the players without a program, after all. 

“If you look at a sentence and look at who the ‘players’ are and what they do, you can improve your sentence structure and vocabulary,” says Safran, whose EGUMPP program is all about identifying phrases, clauses, types of sentences and the like. 

Grammar Bowl champion Anna Zeng (left) receives congratulations from last year's winner, Mercedes Larios, on Saturday.

The Electronic Grammar Usage Mechanics Proficiency Program brought together 24 of the best student grammarians in Arizona for Saturday’s second annual Grammar Bowl at GCU Arena. In a format similar to a spelling bee, the contestants battled through 12 rounds before Anna Zeng, 13, an eighth-grader at the BASIS charter school in Oro Valley, near Tucson, was crowned champion. 

Safran began to develop the EGUMPP software program back in the 1980s, when he was in the business world and kept losing good secretaries. 

“The ones who had outstanding communications skills moved up the ladder,” he explained. 

Hand buzzers at the ready, Anna Zeng of Oro Valley battles Farhan Rahman of Chandler in the Grammar Bowl's championship round.

Safran’s program, which he has called “a teacher’s best friend,” has been catching on in public, private and charter schools and also with the home-school community. All were represented among Saturday’s contestants. 

Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix used EGUMPP with its freshmen last year, and even colleges and universities have been taking a look. According to Safran, Texas Christian University “is so pleased that they want us to do a modified version for journalism students.” 

The program has been introduced to teachers in the Phoenix Union High School District, Safran said, with the idea that the teachers themselves would learn from it. 

“Teachers don’t know how to teach grammar because they didn’t learn it themselves,” he said. 

The Grammar Bowl showed that there’s hope for the next generation of writers and editors. Only four of the 24 finalists had been eliminated through the first seven rounds, before the head-to-head competition began. 

GCU Arena hosted this year's Grammar Bowl, making use of the large video screen at the facility's south end.

Zeng was ready. She had practiced going head to head against Zach Tronstad of her school, who also was among Saturday’s contestants. She said the trick to answering quickly is to search in sentences for appositives or coordinating conjunctions and go from there. 

She estimated that she spent 20 hours practicing, but that’s nothing to a student who does as much as three hours of homework a night and also plays violin and piano. 

“Sometimes I get stressed,” she admitted. “But I love reading as a hobby, and that’s probably where I get some of my grammar skills, too.” 

Safron said the contest drew more than 500 entries this year across Arizona and was noticeably more competitive than last year’s finals, which were held in Ethington Theatre on the GCU campus. Plans already are in the works for a Grammar Bowl next year in Pennsylvania, he said. 

John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, and state Sen. Rich Crandall, the chairman of the Education Committee, presented the awards. The top 16 won stereo headphones, the top eight won iPads and the top four won $5,000 scholarships to the post-secondary school of their choice. 

For winning the championship, Zeng also received a four-day trip for four to Washington, D.C. 

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or

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One Response
  1. Cherie Taylor

    Congratulations Anna!

    Apr.16.2012 at 12:53 pm
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