A team from Wright Middle School became the 100 Black Men of America’s national African American History Challenge Bowl champions last summer by defeating a middle school team from the greater Charlotte area in the championship match-up. But in order to get to that national competition, they had to beat a great group of Madison-area schools in the local challenge bowl competition that was really competitive because, in short, Madison middle schools have won five national championships in just 24 years.
This year, that local competition will be held on Saturday, April 7, at the Doyle Administration Building of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
“The 24th annual African American History Challenge Bowl is a citywide competition among middle school students,” J.R. Sims, a longtime 100 Black Men of Madison member and chair of the African American History Challenge Bowl, tells Madison365. “These kids study for about 6 months or so under the guidance of their coach. They study a specific textbook that is recommended to us by the 100 Black Men of America, the primary sponsors of this challenge.”
Madison middle schools will come together on Saturday in teams of three to answer questions in quiz-show-style format to see who will move on to the national competition in Hollywood, Florida, this summer.
“It’s a round robin tournament with the finals at the end of the day when we crown a winner,” Sims says. “The winners get a trophy, accolades, and a monetary award. In addition to that, we take them to the National African-American History Bowl Challenge where they will go up against students from all around the country and even the world, for that matter.”
Many of those chapters compete at the national African American History Challenge Bowl where Madison middle schools have won the national championship on five different occasions. “Our kids are really sharp and we look forward to being very competitive at the national level again this year,” Sims says. “We have to give credit to the kids’ coaches and, in most cases, teachers in their respective schools are dedicated to teaching these kids and drilling these kids on the subject matter made available to them. We’re quite pleased with how we represent every year.”
Sims has a theory on why the Madison schools do so well at the national level.
“The national headquarters of 100 Black Men allow the chapters to run the program any way they see fit. I think the way we do it in Madison is a little bit different than other chapters,” he says. “We actually stage a competition where a lot of other chapters, I think, try to groom hand-picked kids and make them a team. But we invite all comers and it’s a battle royale. The last team standing is the team that goes. As a result, I think our teams are a lot sharper than many of these other chapters.”
Last year’s Wright Middle School national champion team of Micah Asplund, Pawan Baral, and Jaden Wynn won’t be competing at the event on Saturday. Once a team competes at the national level, they are not allowed to come back. “Every year, we’re sort of reinventing the wheel, you might say,” Sims says. “These kids come in and they have not been exposed to this in a prior year. So, it’s quite the accomplishment when we do win.”
Sims has been involved with the 100 Black Men of Madison and the African-American History Bowl Challenge since 2005. The goal of the event is to encourage pride, self-worth and an appreciation of the African-American legacy and culture.
“What I like the most about the African American History Bowl Challenge is seeing kids show up with a grasp of this aspect of American history,” Sims says. “All of the kids who compete are not necessarily African American. In fact, we have on multiple occasions fielded a diverse team of students. I think that lends to our strength.
“I love that kids are learning history about African Americans that is not taught in the Madison Public School system other than [by] us – the 100 Black Men,” he adds. “It’s quite gratifying to see these kids show up with all of this knowledge about this branch of American history.”
On Saturday, doors for the 24th annual African American Challenge Bowl will open at 8 a.m. and competition starts at 9 a.m. sharp. Sims encourages the greater Madison community to come on out and check it out. He says that it is inspiring and one of his favorite events.
“I love interacting with the kids on the day of the event. The kids are all very sharp and very engaged. Their personalities shine through,” Sims says. “They are competitive and they want to win and they understand that competing academically is just as important as competing athletically so they bring that same level of energy to this contest that they would for any other contest.”