Madison’s Spring Harbor Middle School won the national competition for the African American History Academic Challenge at the 100 Black Men of America, Inc. Annual International Conference and National Competition last summer in Hollywood, Florida.

It was a huge accomplishment but it wasn’t that strange that a Madison middle school won the national championship. Wright Middle School won it the year before.

In fact, a Madison school has been national champion at the African American History Academic Challenge for six years of the 24 years they have entered the contest.

So, it’s safe to say that whichever school wins the 25th annual 100 Black Men of Madison African American History Academic Challenge (AAHAC) at the Doyle Administration Building this Saturday, April 6, has a great chance to win the national championship coming up this summer.

J.R. Sims, the spokesperson for the 100 Black Men of Madison, says the reason that Madison has enjoyed so much success is because of their business model.

J.R. Sims

“By and large, probably 99.9 percent of all the other chapters participating in the History Challenge at the national level do so from the standpoint of grooming a specific block of kids – they start out in January picking out three kids that they will only work with,” Sims tells Madison365. “At the Madison chapter of the 100, we stage local contests and we don’t groom any one group of kids. We don’t go through the entire school district and pick out one group of kids and groom them for six months. What we do is we allow the kids to be coached with the tools that are provided from the national organization with the expectation that they will be coming together in April to compete against each other for what is – up until recently – a citywide championship.

“From that, we’ve seemed to be able to bring out the cream of the crop from all over the city to compete against each other,” he adds. “The team that shakes out from this competition is usually very, very good.”

The 100 Black Men of America, Inc., (sometimes simply referred to as ‘The 100’) works to improve the quality of life for communities throughout the United States. Mentoring is the core service delivery of The 100, the largest network of African-American male mentors in the nation. They work to influence and transform the lives of underrepresented and disenfranchised youth, with a focus on African-American youth.

Here in Madison, the 100 Black Men will be hosting one of their signature events, the African American History Academic Challenge (formerly called the African American History Challenge Bowl), an educational program designed to enhance the appreciation and study of African-American history. The AAHAC is open to all students with the goal of encouraging pride, self-worth and an appreciation of the African American.

“The entire concept behind the History Academic Challenge was to make sure that kids – particularly African-American kids of single-parent households – know what their history is all about,” Sims says. “Because if you don’t know where you’ve been, then you don’t know where you’re going and it’s hard to stay focused on who you are if you don’t have that solid background to help you understand who your ancestors were.

“Prior to what 100 Black Men have been doing with the African American History Academic Challenge, there has been no African-American history or module being taught in MMSD,” Sims adds.

This year, the 100 Black Men of Madison History Academic Challenge has expanded outside of MMSD for the first time ever.

“Not only the Madison Metropolitan School District but also Verona and McFarland are now involved,” Simms says. “The McFarland competition will be Thursday, April 4, and the Verona competition will be Friday, April 5.”

Winners of each area school district will compete in the inaugural State Capitol Regional Competition on Friday, April 12th for a chance to advance to the 100 Black Men of America’s 33rd Annual Conference in Las Vegas, June 12-16.

Sims, a longtime 100 Black Men member who has been involved in the Challenge Bowl for over 10 years, says that his event is one that he really looks forward to.

“I have so much fun on the day of the event when I actually get to see how sharp these kids are when they step on stage and how poised they’ve become,” he says. “I think that in addition to having a grasp on a complete picture of American history, they also come away with a certain level of confidence that they possess information or knowledge that perhaps some folks or some generations before them did not know.

“At every event, I actually learn a thing or two in hearing the questions and listening to the answers that these kids give,” Sims adds. “There’s a certain level of pride for these kids that comes from the knowledge that they gain from the challenge bowl.”