Monday, 27 March 2017

SHE’S GOT GAME: Quizmistress Marline Stephenson-Dalley savours the thrills of the annual SCQ experience

ONE & ONLY: “I remember telling a friend, ‘I’m gonna have Dennis Hall’s job one day’,” Stephenson-Dalley remembers fondly.

On the eve of the grand finale of Schools’ Challenge Quiz’s 2017 season, long-reigning quizmistress Marline Stephenson-Dalley talks to TALLAWAH about that incredible “adrenaline rush”, getting her start in broadcasting, her mentor Dennis Hall, and the legacy of the groundbreaking quiz competition.

IMPECCABLY turned out in light shades of blue and a flawless bespectacled face, Marline Stephenson-Dalley is among the movers and shakers attending today’s tourism events seminar, put on by the Jamaica Tourist Board, inside the Montego Bay of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. But, of course, there’s another reason why she’s turning heads, as she makes her way across the foyer and past the registration desk laden with goodie baskets. 

Everyone recognizes Marline as the long-serving quizmistress of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, whose grand finale is scheduled for this Tuesday night, live at 8:30pm on TVJ – Munro College versus Titchfield High, the defending champions. “I’m looking forward to an exciting final,” she tells TALLAWAH, without missing a beat. 

As the curtains come down on the 2017 season, Stephenson-Dalley is also quick to admit that it’s been quite a run. “I think the season went really well this year. We saw some matches gong down to the wire, and we saw some traditional teams that were expected to go far in the competition drop out early,” she reflects. “But what I liked most is that a lot of the matches were keenly contested, and I’m expecting the final to be the same.” 

In case you didn’t know, this season marks 21 years that Stephenson-Dalley (currently in her 50s) has been serving as quizmistress, bringing that gorgeous smile, crisp diction and remarkable poise to our living rooms week after week. But what’s been the best part of the whole SCQ experience for her? “I still get that adrenaline rush in keeping up with the students, especially during the keenly contested matches,” she tells us. “It keeps me sharp; it keeps me on my toes. I love the interactions with the youngsters and seeing them wanting to excel.” 

Though the Facebook generation has come to know Marline, a proud daughter of St. James, as the face of SCQ, the older folks will remember her junior years in broadcasting, when she began hosting Marline in the Morning, on JBC Radio1, back in the 1980s. The airwaves had opened up to welcome a bright and promising new star. “I started out in radio in 1986, and Dennis Hall was my newscaster back then,” she says, taking us down memory lane. “And I remember telling a friend, ‘I’m gonna have Dennis Hall’s job one day’.” Prophecy fulfilled.

The Dennis Hall in question is, naturally, the late formidable quizmaster and true original, whose commanding presence and quick wit were legendary and made the nightly quiz matches not-to-be-missed experiences. 

But to Stephenson-Dalley, a Justice of the Peace (right) and internationally certified public speaking coach, he was so much more. “Dennis Hall was a mentor for me in many ways,” she recalls. “I was very fortunate to be working in broadcasting when he was here. He was somebody you learned a lot from.” 

When it comes to the legacy of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, a groundbreaking television show on the cusp of its 50th anniversary, Stephenson-Dalley points to its long-held reputation as a beacon of excellence and the pursuit of knowledge, discipline and sportsmanship. 

“It not only builds camaraderie between and within teams; it has established fraternity and tradition because you see where a lot of the past players come back for the Masters match, they coach teams and they support the teams,” she notes. “The students who participate develop certain skills, they learn time management and sportsmanship, and it builds character for them to go on and make their contributions to the wider society.”

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