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THE HISTORY OF GENE AUTRY'S NINJA WARRIORS

(short version)


The Early Years: 1986-1990

Trivia 1986 (theme: "Welcome Back, Trivia Comet"): The Joys listen to a few hours of 
The World's Largest Trivia Contest during a drive up to Wausau.  They are intrigued...

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Trivia 1987 ("Short and Sweet"): 262nd place

The family discusses entering the contest--it does sound interesting, and 
they enjoy games such as Trivial Pursuit.  But in the end, the $7 entry fee seems 
a steep price to pay for a weekend of fun, so it's decided that there will be no 
Joys in Trivia 1987.  But, on an impulse, Dennis Joy drives into Stevens Point and 
registers a team.  The name of that team: The Joy of Trivia.  The Joys play that 
weekend, using three or four reference books.  They do not come close to playing 
54 hours. Mike goes to a track meet, and other interruptions occur.  In the end, they 
wind up in around 262nd place out of about 400 teams.  But at the end of the contest, 
it's clear that the Joys will be back...

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Trivia 1988 ("A Taxing Contest"): 225th place

The Joys ARE back, along with a few family friends
and maybe one or two more reference books.  After some discussion, the name is changed 
to The Gene Autry Fan Club.  I believe this is the year that such longtime players as 
Billy Retza and Dave Trzebiatowski begin to play, but I'm not sure.  

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Trivia 1989 ("The Anniversary Party"): 150th place

Things are starting to heat up.  We are now, 
officially, Gene Autry's Ninja Warriors.  (This was the time of the Teenage Mutant 
Ninja Turtles fad, and we wanted to keep "Gene Autry" in the name of our team, so 
there you go...).  We are joined by a number of friends this year, including many 
who have not played for GANW for years.  Where have you gone, Cory Mlodik, Scott Krems, 
Paul Bunczak, Chris and Julie Schuttenberg, Eric Glendenning?  We finish around 200th 
place,and play for NEARLY the entire contest.  

This year featured the infamous "Strawberry Roan" question:  What was the name of 
the first Gene Autry movie to feature Pat Buttram as Gene's sidekick?  It was early 
in the morning, and only a couple of us were up, but hey--we're GENE AUTRY'S Ninja 
Warriors, right?  A lengthy search through our collection of B-movie stuff gave us 
the answer: "The Strawberry Roan." An hour later we find out it was worth...335 points!!!
Yee-hah!  Shortly after our celebration ends, the Oz comes on and announces: the question 
is being thrown out of the contest.  AAARGH!  I STILL don't know what was wrong with that 
question!

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Trivia 1990 ("Earth Games Are Easy"): 158th place
We register as "Gene Autry's Ninja Warriors 2"--
the last time for 9 years that we'd deviate from our official name.  This is the first 
year we play all 54 hours, and our final finish is much improved as a result: we wind up 
around 135th place, if I recall correctly. This is also the first year (I believe) that
we participate in the "Running Questions"--Billy Retza and myself drove into Stevens 
Point and lumbered around downtown looking for answers to questions about signs in 
store windows and things like that...

Growth and Glory: 1991-1996

Trivia 1991 ("Year of the Palindrome"): 81st place out of 400+ teams 

   A milestone year in GANW history.  We begin to seriously gather more resources,
and we start to recruit new members to fill in for those who go off to college or 
do other silly things.  Chis Hakala makes the journey from Minnesota for the first
time.  In the end, our preparation and recruitment paid off in a big way, and we wind
up in 81st place!  This is the last year we see Billy Retza until 1998...we miss 
him a lot!  This year also featured a mid-contest attempted toilet-paper raid on
GANW headquarters by some of my high school "friends"...however, GANW intelligence
services caught wind of the raid as it was beginning and we quickly dispersed the
would-be wrappers and tossers...

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Trivia 1992 ("Trivia or Dare: It's Vogue"): 100th place out of 454 teams

   Funny thing...I remember almost nothing about this contest except our final
placing--100th!  A bit of a slide backward but nothing major.  We continue building
our membership up, as Don Shenbarger joins us for the first time, becoming our second
out-of-state Ninja Warrior...

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Trivia 1993 ("Trivia in Point"): 56th place out of 483 teams

   GANW roars back toward the front of the pack and winds up in 56th place, our
best ever up to that point.  1993 also featured a record-setting
question about Elvis jumpsuits (don't ask...) which was worth 200 big points!  This
year was also notable as the first year we took movie notes; the clever comedy
"Groundhog Day" holds the honor as the first movie we took notes on.  We turned the
notes on that movie into 75 points during the contest (although we also had our
first painful experience with "we have notes on the movie but the answer isn't in
our notes" syndrome.  A painful lesson was learned, at the cost of 250 points!  Finally,
1993 was the first year we sent out a Trivia Stone team, earning us valuable points
and keeping us headed in the right direction!

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Trivia 1994 ("Trivia Park"): 47th place out of 535 teams

   The year of Jurassic Park features a hurried, last-minute
viewing of the movie, and only one easy question was asked about it!  We had notes 
on about 30 movies since last Trivia, and we were starting to see the tremendous
point potential that notes could bring.  Our biggest point question did NOT come
from the notes, however, but from the dusty and scary place that is my brain.  A 3
a.m. question on B-westerns ("Which western was advertised as the Barnum and Baileys
of westerns?") turned out to be worth 285 big points.  The few of us that were
awake--Dave Trebs, Chris Hakala, and myself--did little jigs of joy when our answer
("Powdersmoke Range") turned out to be correct.  It was a great year, and we
finished with a team record 47th place finish!

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Trivia 1995 ("The Six Million Dollar Contest"): 73rd place out of 541 teams

   The Oz takes the Trivia Stone out of the contest...just as we were getting good
at it!  That must be why we slipped a little bit that year.  Other than our slight
drop in the standings, 1995 was a great year, featuring the introduction of two new
Ninjas: Becky Ulland and Shari Hastings, both of whom have become invaluable members
of the team!  And anyway, 1995 was just a warmup for the great things to come in the
next year...

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Trivia 1996 ("What a Long Strange Trip it's Been"): 38th place out of 563 teams

   The previous year had seen the passing of Jerry Garcia, so the Oz marks the 
occasion in this year's trivia theme.  Becky and I are delayed in leaving St. Paul,
and tear down the driveway of GANW HQ just as the final bars of "Free Bird" are 
playing, just before the contest is to start.  So it's a bit chaotic... But then the
magic starts.  We're playing with a full complement of warriors, we run good shifts
of players all 54 hours, we have a ton of notes, we eat lots of good Chex Mix, we do
strange experiments with Jolt Cola.  And in the end...we break our all time record
for place and points scored (4705 points)!  The truly amazing thing is, we didn't
start out all that great--we were in 88th place after 23 hours.  But as 1 a.m. rolls
around on Monday morning, the remaining Ninjas hear the Oz read off our final place,
handshakes all around, and we sleep the sleep of true Trivia champions... Truly, 
a moment of Trivia Glory!

Trials, Technology, and Triumph: 1997-2001

Trivia 1997 ("Mission Trivia"): 51st place out of 527 teams

   No Macarena dancing is allowed at GANW headquarters, but Trivia 1997 did
feature some fancy footwork on our part to stay in the top 10% of all trivia 
teams.  The Internet began to be used by more and more teams during the 
contest, and GANW HQ was not "wired," so we tried to keep up by taking more
notes and collecting more stuff.  The permanent GANW library began a period
of rapid expansion, and the stacks of books at HQ began to get a bit sloppy,
but our strategy worked for at least another year.  1997 was also the year
of the famous brush fire, which began to blaze behind the house next door
to GANW HQ.  A combined team of Ninja Warriors and Rosholt Volunteer Firefighters
managed to put out the blaze.  I discovered it's not a good idea to fight
fires in bare feet.  We had a good turnout again, so that even as we battled
the flames Ninjas were holding down the fort and answering questions!  A few
weeks after the contest, the Ninja Warriors make a tentative leap into the 
World Wide Web--the GANW Web Page is created...

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Trivia 1998 ("On the Road"): 76th place out of 520 teams

   The internet begins to be an even bigger tool for the "wired" teams, and
once again we respond with vigorous notetaking and book-collecting.  Technology
is pulling ahead of us, however, and we slip a bit in the standings.  Really,
though, for a team with absolutely NO internet access during the contest, we 
do extraordinarily well, don't you think?  Still, a few Ninjas start to ponder
ways in which to make the team more cyber-competitive.  Helping things out a 
bit is the re-introduction of the Trivia Stone.  Our brilliant Stone teams go
out and grab us 300 points, helping to make up for our lack of wires.  1998
was also notable for the return of Billy Retza after 7 years--Billy and Julie 
were only able to play a few hours, but clearly the fire had been re-lit...
Also this year, Mike and Linda Trzebiatowski for the first time loan GANW the
use of their camper, giving tired warriors a QUIET place to sleep, away
from the frenzy of HQ.

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Trivia 1999 ("Trivia Like it's 1999"): 79th place out of 492 teams

   Okay, at first glance, this looks like our worst finish in 7 years.  And it
is... But in retrospect, 1999 was a great year.  We fought our way back, without
the aid of the internet, from 133rd place after 23 hours to 79th place when all
was said and done.  We even moved up a couple spots in the notoriously tough
final 6 hours of the contest.  Our Trivia Stone team was the FIRST team to get
Stone Stamp #3.  And finally, GANW was blessed with Trivia Child #1, Billy Retza, 
Jr.  In other news, GANW marked the passing of Gene Autry (in October of 1998)
with a one-year-only name change to "Gene Autry's Ninja Mourners."  GANW head-
quarters was also refurbished for Trivia 1999, featuring an improved basement, 
better lighting throughout the house, and a comfy sofa.  New Ninja Warrior
Peter Joy was a hit with his Mountain Dew cooler, and breakfast pizza made its
first and so far only appearance at Trivia.  So we didn't break any scoring 
records...we had fun!

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Trivia 2000 ("Trivia Y2K: The Bug Strikes"): 38th place out of 466 teams

   A return to glory for GANW!  A big recruiting drive leads to several new
warriors.  Our note-taking includes great TV notes and many, many movie notes,
and we set a record by earning 335 points for a question about the movie 
"Pitch Black."  Finally, we celebrate the new millenium by ending the GANW
technology boycott--the headquarters gets wired for the internet (actually,
it gets a second phone line) and GANW goes cybernetic!  The net turns out
to be a helpful resource, even with a slow connection, and even more important
are the several great "cyberwarriors" who join us in a chat room.  The 
combination of great preparation, internet help, good turnout, and a little
luck all adds up to a record-tying finish, and a record-breaking point total
(5250 points).  What a way to start the millenium!  And things would get even
better, as we would discover in.....

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Trivia 2001 ("Old Days"): 20th place out of 460 teams
   
   The dawn of the real new millenium on 1/1/01 was a harbinger of the bright
days ahead for the team.  More preparations than ever took place before the 
contest.  GANW moved to a new headquarters in Stevens Point, only minutes away
from the station, and much more convenient for Trivia Stone and Running Question
teams.  The new HQ is very trivia friendly, the entire basement of the house is
used for books, magazines, and Ninja Warriors.  Our internet operations expand
dramatically this year, helping us avoid the curse of the missed 10-point question.
Many, many new cyberwarriors join us, from all over the country, and at HQ 
itself turnout is solid, there are never fewer than 4 people awake and working
on questions at any one time.  For the first 12 hours or so of the contest we
are in the top 12 among all teams, including 6th place at one point.  During the
late night hours on Sunday we answer 31 questions in a row, easily a new record.
Our only real dry spell occurs on Saturday morning, and after that point we 
keep moving up, up, up in the standings, and at 1:30 a.m. on Monday the Warriors
that are awake are thrilled to hear our record-breaking 20th place, 5696 points
finish!  It only takes a few minutes before plans are being made for Trivia 2002,
and we plan to stay in the elite group of teams for a long time to come....

Uncharted Waters: 2002-present

Trivia 2002 ("All In the Contest"): 18th place out of 456 teams

     After our record-breaking finish in Trivia 2001, the Ninjas put even more effort 
into their preparations.  Many of those preparations must remain classified (who 
knows who's reading this?), but it's safe to say that the Warriors now have Trivia 
on the brain year-round.  A few players are unable to make it this year, but we also 
get some new players, both young and old, and we play strong for the entire 54 hours.  
There is general agreement that the first 10-12 hours of the contest are fairly easy--we 
answer 90% of the questions correctly, but languish in the mid-50s.  We get our motors 
running as the morning light breaks out on Saturday, and nail a 225-pointer to jump us
all the way up to 13th!  The remaining 40 hours of the contest see us doing all we can to 
hang on to a top-twenty finish; we never have a really bad hour, and at one point we answer 
25 straight questions.  The weather turns cold and SNOWY, and the Trivia Stone clues 
are, well, tricky, but we manage to hang on and break our old record.  We learn that 
playing Trivia in the top 20 is a whole new ballgame, very exciting but tough!  So we revel 
in our best year ever, but the plans continue, as we try to get closer and closer to a 
top-10 trophy.  Trivia On!

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Trivia 2003: ("Survivor Trivia"): 36th place out of 458 teams

     Well, I guess it's a measure of how far the Ninjas had advanced by this point: 
36th place (a tie for our 3rd-highest finish ever) was a bit of a disappointment!
Looking back, it's possible that the Ninjas (well, alright, mainly just yours truly,
Mike J.) started taking things a little too seriously, and the strain took its
toll.  On the bright side, we DID move way up in the pack over the course of the 
contest -- in the early hours we were in the low 100s.  We had a couple of good 
big-pointers, including a 185-pointer from a "secret weapon" book that seems to get 
us a good one every year.  And, as always, Dennis Joy's TV note-taking came through 
with several very nice big-pointers.  And who are we kidding -- 36th place in the 
World's Largest Trivia Contest is nothing to sneeze at!  So the Ninjas were 
determined to regroup for next year...

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Trivia 2004 ("Thanks For the Contest"): 25th place out of 442 teams

     Determined to avoid the over-seriousness of the previous year, the team motto
for Trivia 2004 was declared to be "FUN."  (Yes, just the word FUN.)  And guess
what?  It worked!  Trivia 2004 was a grand success: the team moved up in the
rankings, there was great turnout both at HQ and in the chat rooms,
and the chat room itself was hailed as the best one yet.  Not one but two pizza 
deliveries kept the team going, and helped the team avoid the dreaded "only 
one person awake at HQ" syndrome.  2005 was also a year of big point questions, including 
a record 400 point question about a product that billed itself as "the World Series' 
most consistent reliever since 1903."  Only a few Ninjas were awake at the time, and
they went with a guess--Coke--that turned out to be right, and worth 400 points!  Many 
other good questions were answered, the team finished only 700 points out of
10th place, and most importantly FUN was had by all.  With renewed optimism the Ninjas
looked toward next year's contest!

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Trivia 2005 ("Keep On Trivia"): 19th place out of 435 teams

     What a year!  Trivia 2005 seemed destined to be a great one right from the
beginning.  Our own Shari Hastings was quoted in an Associated Press article that
came out right before the contest, earning GANW nation-wide exposure.  
More local exposure came in the person of a team from WAOW channel 9, which came
to GANW's HQ on Sunday afternoon to do a spot on teams that were contending for
the top 10.  The contest itself was, I believe, one of the most intense (and
intensely FUN) we've ever had.  We answered all the questions right in hour #1 
(one of only 4 teams to do so) and had the thrill of hearing ourselves listed
in first place!  That set the tone for the entire contest, which featured multiple 
large-point questions, coming from our resources, our notes, and (in one case) a 
wild guess ("the Clampett Clamp" was the wrestling move featured in the Beverly 
Hillbillies Movie).  

    After 18 hours we were happy with how the contest was going, and were in 27th 
place.  But then, in hour 18, we answered a question about the forgettable
Susan Sarandon movie "Anywhere But Here" that was worth a honking 400 points,
and moved us up to 8th place!  For the next 30 hours we hovered right around
the top 10... talk about exciting!!  Hour 33 featured TWO 225-point questions, one
from our resources, one a very good guess by Dennis Joy, which moved us up to 7th 
place.  

     However, the last seven hours or so of the contest turned into a large-point dry
spell for GANW, and although we struggled mightily, we slipped down into 19th place.
Wait a second... 19th place!!! That's phenomenal--6 places higher than last year, 
our 2nd-highest finish ever!!  Plus, we answered the final question correctly,
for the first time in our 19 years of playing Trivia, which was a wonderful way
to end this VERY memorable contest.  Playing with the big boys in the top 10 was
an exhilarating experience, one we hope to duplicate next year.  Plus, GANW had started 
to expand, with several Trivia Babies born in 2004 and 2005.  The
next generation of Ninjas had arrived!!

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Trivia 2006 ("The Odd Contest"): 26th place out of 428 teams

     Once again the team motto was FUN! (all caps, with an exclamation point)... 
turnout was great, with around 50 Ninjas playing at HQ and in the chatroom.  A 185-point 
question about a US Postal Service print ad (found in the "back room" by longtime 
Ninja Sarah Miller) jumped us into 6th place after hour 3... would GANW have another 
run at the top 10?  It didn't turn out that way, but it was a very solid year... 
another 185-pointer came from one of our "secret" resources (to secret to mention 
here), and the most beautiful woman in sports was (of course) Florence Chadwick, 
worth 55 big points.  My Rose Parade notes were not perfect, but we got a Rose Parade 
70-pointer anyway, and to top things off, we nailed a 400-pointer (about the 1988 
Preakness Stakes) in hour 52, to jump us back into the mid-twenties!  What a 
great way to finish up our 20th year of playing Trivia!

     Culinary treats included yummy seafood pizza, phenomenal pies (from the Norske 
Nook in Osseo, WI), coffee Rice Krispie bars, the Rays' famous cinnamon rolls, 
and Brad's donuts.  Once again the snazzy Mountain Dew cooler-thing was full of 
caffeinated beverages.  A couple of Trivia Babies had been born in the previous year, 
and they now began the process of Ninjafication and immersion in the crazy world of Trivia.  
What can I say?  It was another great year of questions, answers, funny moments, fun 
with Cyberninjas from all over the country, and more!

Babes in Trivialand: 2007-present

Trivia 2007 ("Trivia Returns"): 27th out of 440 teams More details to follow!